Editorial: How long is too long?

Caucuses have been held. The slate of candidates for this year’s municipal elections have been flushed out, and there are some notable names missing from the lists. At least four long-time public servants have decided to step down—at least for a while. In addition, a small army of GOP planning and zoning commisisioners could jump to the council. For the first time in many, many years, the town’s major boards could have a much different look after Election Day. For those who like rotating leadership, that’s good news.

We were struck by comments made by Mike Riccio when he announced he wouldn’t be seeking reelection to the town council. Riccio said that far too many people in government make it a life career. He said it’s damaging to the town, state, and country to have people linger in government positions. We agree, and we applaud Riccio for broaching the subject. In fact, Riccio has stepped down for breaks before, so we know that this wasn’t just political rhetoric. On this issue, he’s certainly walked the walk. “I have always believed that government, at all levels, needs term limits. It is the only way to get new ideas into the mix and keep government and leadership vibrant,” he said. “Since we don’t have term limits in Southington, I self-impose them.”

We hope this discussion doesn’t just fade into the background noises of the local campaigns. We hope that Riccio’s comments start a real discussion about term limits in Southington. Do the majority of townfolk agree or disagree? This should be hashed out by residents. It should not be up to the parties, reigning town officials, or even the press.

The last time political terms came under scrutiny was in 2006. At the time, ethics and power were in the public spotlight as officials were working to draft a new ethics code. In late January 2006, the council appointed a charter revision commission to consider changing the two-year town attorney position into, essentially, a lifetime appointment for Mark Sciota (This was before his promotion. At the time, Sciota was deputy town manager and town attorney).

After eight meetings with eight public hearings, the committee returned to the council with—not one—but six proposals for changes to the charter, which were added as referendums to the 2006 ballot. They proposed an indefinite term for the town attorney (defeated by voters). They added recommendations to double the town council’s financial authority and the possibility of paying town officials for their public service, but both were defeated on Election Day. They proposed shortening terms for the parks and recreation board and the tax review board, along with terms for police and fire commissioners. These proposals were defeated soundly, but other changes were welcomed by residents.

Voters approved proposals to shorten school and finance board jobs to two-year terms. At the time, BOE officials protested that it would be impossible to do their jobs with shortened terms. Charter revision committee chair Bill DePaolo said, “Our reply is that hardly anyone serves for two years on that board. Some have been there for decades.”

BOE isn’t the only local board with lifetime membership, and nothing’s changed since term length was shortened in 2006. There are 12 candidates on both BOE and council ballots with all but three winning seats, so the process doesn’t foster a lot of turnover. Retirement seems to be the only way an old-timer leaves office. Maybe that’s because the only way to limit term limits is through party nominating committees where winning—not ethics—is the primary focus.

Should Southington have term limits? Perhaps the town should finally take on this discussion. If not now, when?

To comment on this editorial or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.

 

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