Warren council hopefuls differ on term limits

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How long is long enough on the town council? Seven of the eight candidates for council differ on whether they support term limits.

The issue came up several months ago, when councilor Davison Bolster suggested term limits not just for council members, but for all appointed volunteers on town boards. He said at the time that periodically bringing in new blood is healthy for the town, and will encourage newcomers to apply for positions since they know that long-timers won’t serve indefinitely.

“Serving 10 to 12 years on any board is sufficient,” he said this week. “Knowing that every position would eventually open up, I believe more residents would volunteer and bring fresh ideas.”

The idea didn’t get much traction at the time, but is getting some now, with just over a month until the election. Two other council hopefuls — Democrats Brian Mellor and Richard Silva — said this week that that they support term limits for council members, while incumbents David Frerichs, Chris Stanley and Cathie Tattrie, and hopeful Joseph DePasquale, said they do not. Independent Scott Lial said he doesn’t fundamentally oppose them, but questions the necessity of them in Warren, where voters can vote councilors in and out every two years.

“Sometimes you need fresh ideas with new people,” said Mr. Mellor, the vice president of the Warren Democratic Town Committee. “I don’t like the direction this town is going in; that’s why I’m running. But if they want to serve, I think three or four terms is enough, then let them sit out two years. I feel that change is good for the town.”

“Yes, we should have them,” added Democrat Richard Silva. “This would allow the people of Warren to elect new council members with fresh ideas and a different look at the ideas.”

While the two Democratic hopefuls said they’re running in part to bring those fresh ideas, incumbents said this week that instituting term limits can only backfire, and clearly is bad for citizen participation in government.

“My concern  with any limits … is that the desire to serve kind of comes and goes,” said Ms. Tattrie. “The last few elections, there’s been a lot of people who want to be on the council, but we haven’t always had that. We don’t always have that availability of candidates.”

Term limits were originally established elsewhere to prevent monopolies,” said council president Chris Stanley, the lone Republican on the council. “Warren no longer faces this obstacle because political parties do not enjoy the dominance they once did. Clearly, when citizens grow weary of a particular candidate and their supporters the voters wisely elect to let them go.”

A better alternative to bring in new blood and ideas? Staggering terms, he said, “is a much more interesting and dynamic proposal.”

More bluntly, Mr. DePasquale said he’s no fan of limits: “If the voters don’t like someone,vote them out. Let the public decide.”

Mr. Bolster said his idea’s not so radical. Term limits are routinely set, and a good example is the Bristol County Water Authority, he said, where the Barrington, Bristol and Warren town council recently approved term limits for the authority’s board of directors.

“Without term limits, board members could serve indefinitely,” he said.

Still, issues remain, even among those who support his idea.

“This is the only thing that voters really have a say in, and this is their time to vote you in or out,” said Mr. Frerichs. “I still believe that this is the people’s choice.”

“My only reservation is the current lack of people getting involved in town government and wanting to volunteer as a candidate,” said Mr. Silva.

Added Mr. Lial: “I am not fundamentally opposed to the concept of restricting term lengths … but question the necessity at the town level. Party dominance is less prevalent than it once was and governing officials are held responsible for their actions and decision making by thevoters. If the voters want change, they retain the power to affect that change every two years. All five Warren council seats are open every election, making it very difficult for any one member to hold a seat for an inordinate amount of time.”

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