“It’s hard to get people to vote their own term limits,” Sandy City Councilwoman Maren Barker said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Her remark proved prophetic: Moments later, the council declined to do just that, voting 4-3 to kill a plan limiting local officeholders to two terms.
“We have term limitations — they’re called elections,” said Councilman Steve Fairbanks, who has served since 2003 and acknowledged he would be affected by the proposal. “I would anticipate that if I decided to run again there would be plenty here that would choose to campaign against me, but I think it’s the right of the voters to choose. If I’m not doing the kind of job that the voters of the city like, they’re welcome to vote me out.”
Fairbanks joined three other council members in voting down the proposal.
Under Barker’s plan council members could run for mayor and vice versa after two terms but not for a third term in the same office. Officeholders could then seek the same office again after taking a four-year hiatus.
“The reason I’m bringing up term limits is that as just a resident, it always seemed odd to me that our president of the United States had terms limit of eight years but then nothing else had term limits,” she said at the meeting. “And then the more I got involved in local politics and state politics, it seemed that there was some situations where we would have politicians in office for 30 years or 20 years and it just seemed a really long time.”
Barker won her council seat in 2015 by defeating Dennis Tenney, who had served on the council for 28 years. Former Mayor Tom Dolan, who was defeated by Kurt Bradburn last year, had served for 24.
“I think it’s really important to have turnover,” Barker said before the meeting. “It allows new perspectives and new ideas to come into city government.”
Bradburn also backed the proposal, noting that it can be intimidating to run against an incumbent.
Seven of the eight residents who spoke on the plan at the meeting also offered support, though some suggested minor tweaks, such as changing the limit to three terms.
Opponents argued that the limits would create arbitrary turnover and disregard the will of the voters.
“I’m against any law whose sole purpose is to protect us from our own stupidity,” said Cyndi Sharkey, a Sandy resident and Planning Commission member. “If we’re too dumb or too uninformed to vote out candidates who have outlived their usefulness, then we deserve what we get. And hopefully we learn something very valuable in those kind of cases. I don’t see expiration dates stamped on anybody’s foreheads here and I don’t think anyone’s value to our city ends on any predictable date.”
Three-term Councilman Chris McCandless, noting that he would be affected by the proposal, praised the contributions he and four other longtime council members have made to Sandy because of their experience and relationships with other legislators — including the Bonneville Shoreline expansion and the Hale Center Theatre project.
Barker said the proposal would likely have been among the first of its kind in a Utah city, adding that she’s seen wide support for such an effort from constituents — even if that’s not matched among politicians.
“You’ve asked us to vote for term limits,” she told meeting attendees. “I would ask the council to remember who they represent and what their vote actually means and who it represents tonight. I’ve heard you. I’m bringing term limits to the city council. I hoped that the city council would hear you, too.”