Washington City Council members Monday night discussed the possibility of extending council members’ terms from two to four years.
House Bill No. 163 was passed by the Missouri General Assembly and signed by Gov. Nixon. It would allow the term extension with the passage of an ordinance or approval by voters.
The measure takes effect Aug. 28.
Joe Holtmeier, council member, asked if there would be a cost savings in increasing the terms.
City Counselor Mark Piontek said the city would save on certain years that in which there would be no council elections, because there wouldn’t be any terms on the ballot.
“It would save, plus, it’s going to be beneficial to the taxpayer in my eyes,” said Mark Hidritch, adding that it takes six to eight months after a council member is elected to figure out what’s going on.
“Then all of a sudden, a year later, you’re up for re-election,” Hidritch said.
Jeff Mohesky, council member, said he thinks it should be decided by the voters.
Former Washington mayor, Walt Larson, addressed the council. Larson said that while the job is difficult, the ins and outs can be learned in a fairly short time.
“From what I’ve observed in the 27 years that I’ve been in (Washington), is that councilmen do one of two things in that first couple of years,” Larson said. “They either learn very quickly and become a very proficient councilperson, or they’re a dumbass and they never are able to properly govern the city.”
Larson said the city made it through the Civil War with one-year terms to its governing body, which wasn’t called a council at that time.
He added that even if there is a year without a council election, there will likely be other ballot issues, so there wouldn’t really be a cost savings.
Some council members could become complacent, he continued, and may not visit constituents as often.
“I think there’s a big benefit to council members having to go out there every two years and meet the constituents,” Larson said.
Hidritch disagreed, saying that he thinks longer terms would help council members be more committed, because they don’t have to worry about campaigning.
Other city council members questioned if longer terms would deter potential candidates because it’s a four-year commitment rather than a two-year commitment.
Josh Brinker, council member, suggested that the council take some time to think about the term extension and revisit it in the next several months.
If the council decides to extend the terms by ordinance, the first members to be elected to four-year terms would be in April 2014.
If the issue goes to the voters, it would be on the April 2014 ballot and the first four-year council terms would be in effect for the April 2015 municipal election, Piontek noted.
The council also could choose to take no action and continue the current two-year terms.
Piontek said in a letter to the council that if it decides to pass an ordinance, it needs to be done well in advance of the opening date to file for city council on Dec. 17, 2013.