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Term limits trigger divide

Assembly debates merits of limiting tenure on city boards, commissions

Posted: Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Juneau Assembly members who don't want an ordinance limiting terms on boards and commissions offered compromises Monday but couldn't break a deadlock over the issue.

Some suggested an exemption for the Bartlett Regional Hospital Board because of members' specialized knowledge, while another wanted to give board and commission members nine more years.

In the end, the Assembly Committee of the Whole remained divided 4-4 and did not move the proposed ordinance out of committee. Committee Chairman Jim Powell was absent.

Some Assembly members say term limits will allow fresh ideas and foster the democratic process. Others argue they strip away years of institutional knowledge and send a negative message to community members who serve virtually for free.

"I don't look at a person who has been there for 10 years as a detriment," Assembly member Merill Sanford said.

The issue goes on the agenda for the March 15 committee meeting. At that time, Powell can decide whether to move forward, Mayor Bruce Botelho said.

Powell, who is termed out by the Assembly's limits in October, has said he favors the same limits for other boards and commissions.

The proposed ordinance would limit board and commission members to serving nine consecutive years. Members then would have to remain off a board or commission for one year and then could re-apply to the Assembly for appointment, the ordinance says.

Joining Powell in his support are Botelho, Marc Wheeler, Stan Ridgeway and Dan Peterson. Meanwhile, the affected boards, including the hospital, airport and planning commission, all oppose term limits. Board members say the restrictions would eliminate years of institutional knowledge and commitment.

Assembly member Randy Wanamaker suggested exempting the hospital board because it includes members with specialized knowledge about the health care industry. The hospital board would lose Donna Herbert, who is knowledgeable about the Medicaid system, and would have to hire her for $60,000 a year, he said.

Assembly member Jeannie Johnson suggested giving board members an additional nine years after the completion of their current term before setting a limit.

Wheeler, executive director of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, called a nine-year tenure on a board "generous." He added that many nonprofits embrace term limits because they insert "new blood" on a board.

The Assembly should encourage growth and succession, Assembly member Stan Ridgeway said. Board memberships turn over anyway.

"Why are they so opposed to it when it naturally happens?" he asked.

Assembly member David Stone called term limits a "cowardly approach" so the Assembly does not have to make hard decisions about reappointing board members.

"There is no way I will ever support this," Stone said.

Johnson said setting term limits sends boards the message that the Assembly does not appreciate them.

Term limits are not intended to send that message, Ridgeway countered. Some members of the public do not apply to boards, he said, because they are under the impression that those appointments are for life.

No mechanism is in place to evaluate board members, said Wheeler, who suggested the Assembly improve that process.



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