Council keeps term limits off ballot

PARKERSBURG – No city charter amendments will be on the Nov. 4 ballot after City Council rejected proposals that would have eliminated the mayoral term limit, established term limits for council and limited when council could consider pay raises for its members and the mayor.

In order to pass on first reading, the ballot questions required yes votes from six of the nine council members, but none earned even a simple majority during Tuesday’s meeting in council chambers at the Municipal Building.

The most-discussed option was to remove the charter prohibition against an individual serving as mayor for more than three consecutive four-year terms. In his executive message, Mayor Bob Newell urged council – and any citizens who might vote on the measure – to make their decision based on the concept, not the individual in office.

“Contrary to belief, I don’t want to be mayor for life,” he said.

Some council members who supported the measure cited the current period of economic development and potential in the city and said the decision of whether the current mayor continues in office should be made by the voters, not a term limit.

“This is not a vote as to whether our mayor continues or not,” said Councilwoman Nancy Wilcox, who sponsored the ordinance with Councilwomen Sharon Lynch and Kim Coram. “It’s to allow this to be put on the ballot in November so that the people of Parkersburg can decide.”

Two city residents spoke during the public forum in opposition to the measure.

“It’s understood that there are people pleased with the mayor’s tenure, and I believe it is about him,” said Jim Mullen.

Mullen said history has shown that the “propensity for corruption and incompetence” increases the longer elected officials stay in office. He also argued that a lot of thought went into placing the term limit in the charter, adopted in 1969, and it shouldn’t be changed on “a spur-of-the-moment decision.”

Parkersburg resident John McIntyre said he thought the limit should be reduced to three terms instead of two.

The ordinance was rejected on a 5-4 vote, with Wilcox, Lynch, Coram and Councilman Jim Reed voting for it.

“I’m sorry council did not vote to allow the public to decide by their votes whether the term of mayor should be unlimited,” Lynch said.

Council President John Rockhold, who voted against the ordinance, said he would have supported putting it on the ballot if he thought residents wanted it there.

“You know how many people I’ve had talk to me, pro or con, on this issue? No one,” he said.

Wilcox was the only council member to speak about the ordinance prior to the vote. Councilman J.R. Carpenter said he didn’t say anything against the issue because he thought it had been discussed enough, even if not among the council members themselves.

“I’ve discussed it with people at my restaurant, people in my district,” Carpenter said. No one said they were in favor of it, he said, although one did say they felt it should go on the ballot.

In response to the mayoral term-limit proposal, Carpenter and Councilmen Roger Brown and John Kelly sponsored an ordinance that would have put the question of instigating term limits for council before voters. That measure failed 6-3, with only Brown, Coram and Kelly voting for it.

Carpenter said he sponsored the ordinance because he felt it should be on the agenda, but voted against it because “I wasn’t for changing the charter in any way shape or form, unless there was public outcry for it.”

Wilcox said she might have considered the ordinance but she felt its introduction was a “vindictive move.”

In addition, she said, it’s already difficult enough to find people to run for council without limiting how long they can serve.

“You can tell from the last election, we had a lot of unopposed seats and there’s not a lot of people that would go in and do the job that we’re doing for the amount of money they’re making and the amount of grief that they get and the amount of meetings there (are),” Wilcox said.

A third proposed charter amendment would have prohibited council from considering a pay increase for its members or the mayor during a municipal election year. It also would have prevented council from increasing a mayor’s salary during his or her current term of office. The charter already prohibits such a move for council.

Kelly said salaries should be established before the filing period for municipal offices starts to “give every individual and every candidate an opportunity to know what that salary is going to be,.”

In the past, he said, salary increases for council have been voted on between the election and the first meeting of the new council, after the sitting council knows who is leaving and coming back. Wilcox and Lynch said that hasn’t been the practice in their time on council.

Reed said he felt the issue didn’t need discussing since council members and the mayor don’t do their jobs for the money. He noted a mayor could make more money doing a comparable job in the private sector.

“I think that we’re wasting time here,” he said.

That ordinance failed 6-3, with Brown, Kelly and Councilman Mike Reynolds voting for it.

In other business, council unanimously approved the third and final reading of an ordinance authorizing a bond issue of not more than $1 million for the Parkersburg Utility Board to acquire new vehicles and the final reading of an ordinance adding the city arborist as a member of the City Tree Commission, increasing its roster to eight individuals.