Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ballot language for Sarasota's anti-term limits referendum

Time is running out for the desperate Sarasota County Commissioners trying to undermine their county's voter-approved 8-year term limits law. At the request of commissioners, county attorney Stephen DeMarsh has offered sample ballot language and warns a public hearing is required on this issue on Nov. 8 or Nov. 15 in order to place the question on the Jan. 31 ballot.

Ed Scott tells the story in a Englewood Sun article here. Scott reports that in an Oct. 18 memo to commissioners DeMarsh advised that the language has to confirm with a 1982 Supreme Court decision that the public be “advised of the true meaning and ramifications of the amendment in clear and unambiguous language” and the ballot summary must “give the voter fair notice of the decision to be made and explain the effect of the amendment."

DeMarsh's sample language for the most part passes the test. Here it is:

TITLE: Extend Commissioner term limits to three terms
commencing upon referendum approval if term limits constitutional

TEXT: Shall Section 2.1A of the Sarasota County Charter be
amended to allow County Commissioners to serve three, rather than two, consecutive terms, and to provide that term limits shall be applicable only to terms commencing after January 31, 2012, rather than to terms commencing after September 1, 1998 (effective date of current term limit provision)? These term limits would be enforceable if a court’s ruling results in Sarasota County’s Commissioner term limits being found constitutional.

Note that the text makes it clear, if one reads it, that this ballot measure weakens the existing term limits and adds a 12-year delay on implementation.

The title alludes to this too, but is not 100% clear and many voters only read the title. So defenders of the current law need to inform voters that this measure does not simply impose 12-year term limits (something voters may support as they don't know Sarasota already has 8-year term limits in the charter) but instead is an self-interested attack on term limits. We should refer to it as the "anti-term limits amendment" from here on out.

If citizens are successful in educating their neighbors on this point, the people will win and the politicians will lose.

1 comment:

  1. In the Englewood Sun article linked to above, there is a mention that 4th District Court of Appeals found Broward's 12-year term limits constitutional. But the 4th DCA decision was regarding the constitutionality of term limits in general and does not distinguish between 8- and 12- (or any other) term limits. Currently, nine of the 10 Florida charter counties that impose term limits use 8-year limits.