Tom Mills, writing in The Sault Star, raised an interesting scenario this week – term limits for members of our city council.
It is not a new thought in regard to the Sault. Ward 5 Coun. Frank Fata, who is running for a fourth term, raised it in a media release carried by saultonline during the 2014 election campaign.
But it didn’t get any legs because Fata never brought up the issue once he got re-elected.
Considering he is running again four years later, that is probably why.
Despite its merits, the suggestion by Mills probably won’t go anywhere either. After all, you won’t find many members of a city council who want to vote to curtail their own political careers.
I thought this was obvious when the present council voted to cut back from 12 councillors to two covering five wards instead of six for the upcoming civic election.
If they had really been serious, they would have cut to eight councillors covering four wards.
Mills suggests the best limit would be two terms but he could live with three.
“With municipal elections now falling four years apart in Ontario, that would give a politician up to eight or 12 years to implement all of those bright ideas she or he introduced during the campaign,” he said..
“Surely that’s ample time. Does someone who needs more than eight or 12 years to get some goal accomplished really deserve to hold office?”
Fata in his release said, “We have many young, intelligent, creative and thought-provoking citizens in this great city and we must find a way to give them an opportunity to take charge and lead. Councillors serving in their 4th, 5th and 6th terms on council must, I believe, step aside and let this next generation take charge.”
He suggested a limit of three terms on council would be a fair and reasonable period.
“If someone thinks their mission in life is to be on council, then they could come back and try again after a four-year hiatus,” he said..
I think Mills and Fata are on to something but I am not sure Fata, since he is running again, remembers what it is.
Anyway, right off I will say that my choice would be three terms. The only way a councillor putting in three terms could run again would be if it were for the position of mayor.
This is not to say that I believe all councillors are just spinning their wheels after three terms. Heck, some never get beyond spinning their wheels. It is just to ensure that our council is always healthy and fresh.
Years ago the big thing was to get elected. Once that happened, through name recognition when it came to the next and future elections, I suspect, a councillor was in like Flynn, defeat almost unheard of.
That is how we had councillors such as Walter Chisholm, Mike Sanzosti and Frank Manzo put in 30-plus years on council.
In one election, one newcomer to the scene told me an incumbent said to him when he was putting up his signs, “Why are you bothering. We always go back anyway.”
Usually, yes, but this time he was wrong.
This was the election that took place after what had become known as the CAO affair, when then-mayor Joe Fratesi retired then-CAO Alan Jackson and pushed and acquiescent council into giving him the job.
The electorate, unhappy with the shenanigans that had taken place, voted out six of the eight councillors who supported Fratesi and it would have been seven except one didn’t run again. A councillor who sat on the sidelines because of his business relationship with Fratesi was also defeated.
But in most elections there is not such a clear-cut issue to help voters in making their decision.
A poll in Toronto last year showed that 56% of voters favoured capping the number of terms a councillor could serve. Only 29% voted no to term limits and 15% said they didn’t know.
In 2013 Toronto Councillors Mary-Margaret McMahon and Jaye Robinson proposed a three-term limit on councillors, saying in a motion to council, “Toronto must investigate if limiting the length of time Councillors and the mayor can remain in office will make Toronto’s government more reflective of the demographics and political aspirations of this City’s residents.”
Council voted down the idea.
It surfaced in Calgary last year but suffered the same result in a testy debate and vote in January of this year.
Several councillors raised concerns about comments made in the media, and in the chamber, that were construed as personal attacks on some of council’s long-serving members.
This was a thought not lost on Fata.
“I don’t want anyone out there to take this personally but if you do, that’s your prerogative,” he said. “There’s no ill intent by me.”
I guess not, considering he is now one of those he was complaining about.
With Ward One Coun. Steve Butland retiring, the only councillor who fits Fata’s description now would be Lou Turco, running in his sixth election. He served five terms in Ward 4 but with the cutback to 10 wards from 12, this time he is running in Ward 2.
I am all for term limits but I think there has to be a method developed for getting the information out on the background of the newcomers seeking election. It is fine to say that those seeking office should get the information out themselves and also that voters bear some responsibility as well in seeking out the information.
But I believe it would help if some locations for the information, such as an Internet site and in public libraries, could be set up so that the background and stands of the various candidates could be readily accessible.
Otherwise advantage-incumbent will always be there…