Parkersburg residents weigh in on term limits

PARKERSBURG – Parkersburg City Council on Tuesday will consider whether to put the questions of eliminating term limits for the mayor’s office and establishing term limits for its own members on the November ballot, but a number of city residents already know how they would vote.

Ray McIntire said he’s in favor of term limits for both offices.

“We don’t want to set up a kingship,” he said. “Changing mayors works as an audit for the office.”

But city resident Steve Davis sees no reason people shouldn’t be able to keep electing a mayor or council member, if he or she is doing the job well.

“If they’re doing a good job, they should be allowed to stay more than three terms,” he said.

The city charter, ratified in 1969, limits the mayor to three consecutive full terms. Current Mayor Bob Newell is in the midst of his third term, the first mayor under the new charter to stay in office that long.

Local small business owner Cheryl Stahle says that’s enough.

“Three terms is plenty. We need new blood,” she said.

Council members Nancy Wilcox, Sharon Lynch, Kim Coram and Jim Reed are sponsoring an ordinance on Tuesday’s council agenda that would put the question of removing the mayoral term limit before the voters on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. Coram and Lynch have said they feel the voters, not the charter, should decide whether to keep the mayor in office after 2016 in the midst of a period of potentially historic growth for the city.

It would take yes votes by six of the nine council members to put the issue on the ballot.

Three have already come out against it.

The proposal to remove term limits on the mayor prompted Councilmen Roger Brown, J.R. Carpenter and John Kelly to sponsor another potential ballot issue, this one imposing three-term limits on members of council. Currently, there is no restriction on how many consecutive terms a council member can serve.

Parkersburg resident John White said he’s fine with adding term limits to council members and keeping them for the mayor.

“We don’t need career mayors or career representatives,” he said. “It tends to breed corruption when these guys get there too long.”

Stahle said the argument about keeping a mayor in place during a period of economic development doesn’t work with her, because she feels city officials need to do more in that arena right now.

“To me, they seem more worried about what the fronts of the buildings look like, not the jobs that are in them,” she said.

Some early opposition to the term-limit removal has been specifically aimed at Newell, who has said he doesn’t know if he would run for a fourth term even if he could. Both he and council members on both sides of the issue have said they don’t want the decision to be about whether a specific individual should serve more than three consecutive terms.

That’s how Harold Brown, a former chairman of the Wood County Democratic Executive Committee who served on the city charter review committee from 2006 to 2008, is trying to consider the matter.

“If this were only to allow Mayor Newell to continue, I’d favor it because we’ve been very stable under him and his leadership’s been positive,” he said.

But Brown said he’d have concerns about what the lack of a term limit could mean for other candidates in the future.

“There is such a thing as a person being so powerful, such a strong leader … they emerge with so much power they do things their way, which may not be in the best interest of the public,” he said.

Brown said he’d be less inclined to support a term limit for council members.

“A council member is one of nine,” he said. “Some of those people really do get to where they’re serving their community exceptionally well.”

And it’s such a local position, Brown said, it’s more likely an ineffective representative would be ousted by voters in his or her district than someone in a citywide position.

Gene Haynes, who served a term on Parkersburg City Council in the 1950s and supported the change to the strong mayor form of government under the current charter, said he’s got no problem with term limits for the mayor and council, or Congress for that matter.

“They’ve been there so long, they think they’re invincible,” he said.

And sometimes that gets to be the case, with voters often choosing the most familiar name, Haynes said.

“They always say the voters have the right to recall anytime, but they don’t, generally,” he said.

As for continuity in a critical time for the city, Haynes noted the mayor isn’t the only one working on economic development initiatives.

“Continuity could be anybody,” he said. “I’ve got no problem with Bob, but three times is enough.”

In order to reach the ballot, both questions would have to receive at least six affirmative votes on Tuesday and again on Aug. 19.

Council will consider two other potential charter changes on Tuesday as well. One would prohibit council from voting for a pay raise for its members that would take effect during the term on which it is voted. The other would impose the same restriction on pay increases for the mayor. In addition, no salary increases for elected officials could be considered during a municipal election year.