Paul Konrad has lived in the city of Allen for 17 years – and the same person has been the city’s mayor for all those years, and more.
Twenty-year incumbent Steve Terrell, who became Allen’s Mayor in 1997, was re-elected in May for another three years. His decision to run again renewed talk of term limits for city officials.
Konrad picked up on that talk and found it resonated with him. He and several other residents decided to do more than talk: they’re gathering signatures on a petition calling for a vote on adding term limits to the city’s charter.
Under the banner “Yes to Term Limits for Allen City Council,” a loose association of Allen citizens is taking their message and their petition to neighbors – at their homes, public venues, and events like Allen USA Celebration.
Why the push for term limits when Allen residents seem satisfied with the current crop of incumbents? Konrad’s reasons for getting involved in the campaign for term limits are typical:
One of the things I have loved about Allen is how involved one can be in city issues. Term limits is something I am now interested in looking closer at because for years I have heard that “Elections are the equivalent of term limits.” If you think about that more and look at how often a long-term incumbent goes unopposed in an election, you realize that we only have a choice when someone runs against an incumbent; and that is not too often here in Allen. Why? Because the longer someone is in office the more name recognition they get and the harder it is for someone to run against them. It is a costly issue to try and do so.
You may have noticed how many people run for an open spot rather than against an incumbent; that is not by chance. With term limits, you get more of a chance to let others in to the system to help serve our city. Those that have served on Council can still be active on boards and commissions so it is not like we would have to lose their input and direction.
Five percent of Allen’s registered voters – about 2,900 – need to sign the petition in order to get the proposed charter amendment added to the November 2017 ballot. Circulators are hoping to collect about 3,200 signatures before the end of July so City Council has time to verify the signatures and could approve the ballot language at its August 15 meeting.
The issue would then be in the hands of Allen voters.
The proposed city charter amendment that voters would decide on sets the following limitations on city officials’ terms:
“No person shall serve as Mayor for more than two (2) consecutive elected terms, and no person shall serve as Council Member for more than two (2) consecutive elected terms. No person shall serve as a Council Member and Mayor (combined) for more than twelve (12) years.”
After serving two consecutive three-year terms, a mayor could run for council or a councilmember could run for mayor, or they could sit out a term then run again for the same office – until they reach the maximum 12 years of service.
How would this look in practice?
Under the proposed term limits, which would be retroactive, Terrell would be ineligible to run again when his current term ends in 2020. So would two councilmembers who will have hit the 12-year service limit when their terms expire in 2018 and 2019. Three others will conclude their second consecutive terms in 2018 or 2019; they’d be eligible to run for mayor or could sit out a term and run for council again and serve another six years.
The city’s newest councilmember elected in May could serve through 2023, then run for the mayor’s seat or sit out a term and try again for a council position.
Allen resident Naomi Emmett, who ran against Terrell in this year’s mayoral election, supports the effort to put term limits on the ballot and in the city’s charter. She said in a candidate forum that term limits provide checks and balances on individual power and a chance for other voices to be heard.
“It should be a term of service, not a position of power,” Emmett said of serving in elected city office.
In that same forum, Terrell dissembled, saying that a request for term limits never came from any citizen during his 20 years in office. He added that he believes the absence of such limits gives the city’s bureaucracy stability.
“Stability in local elected officials is the best thing you can have in the city of Allen,” Terrell said.
Konrad isn’t sure how voters will respond if given the chance to vote on term limits, but he says it’s important for residents to get involved at the local level:
What I have found most interesting after talking to hundreds of people on this subject is how many want term limits at the state and federal level but not at the local level. My influence starts at the local level and goes up from there. Let your voice also start at the local level by getting on board with term limits.
Whether for or against term limits, or undecided, Konrad encourages residents to sign the petition so voters can have a say on the issue.
“Why would someone want to prevent the citizens from having a choice to vote on it?”
If the term limits petition drive succeeds, Allen voters will have a chance to decide if they’re satisfied with the status quo, or if they’re ready to see more of their neighbors serving in their city government.