Editorial: With another Moffat County election season underway, let’s consider limiting term limits | CraigDailyPress.com

Editorial: With another Moffat County election season underway, let’s consider limiting term limits

With another election season getting underway, it occurs to us that it may be time to once again open the discussion on eliminating term limits for at least some elected county officials.

The discussion is nothing new.

Since term limits were implemented statewide in 1994 by way of a constitutional amendment — an amendment that passed by a 20,000-vote margin — there have been three attempts to eliminate or extend these limits on some or all elected offices in Moffat County.

In 1996, only two years after passage of the amendment, the question of whether to remove term limits from all elected Moffat County offices — sheriff, clerk and recorder, treasurer, assessor, coroner, surveyor and commissioner — was placed on the ballot as a single measure, a measure that was resoundingly defeated by county voters.

Six years later, in 2002, local proponents of the elimination of term limits tried again, this time with five separate ballot measures, each independently seeking the removal of term limits for the offices of sheriff, clerk and recorder, treasurer, assessor and coroner. Again, all the measures failed, though the margins were considerably closer.

The question was most recently broached in 2013, in the form of seven separate ballot measures proposing that term limits on seven county-elected offices —sheriff, clerk and recorder, treasurer, assessor, coroner, surveyor and commissioner — be extended from two consecutive terms to three.

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Of those seven measures, only two — the measures extending term limits for the offices of county coroner and county surveyor — were approved.

It is interesting to note that, among the five term limit extension measures that failed in 2013, only the question of whether to extend the allowed terms for county commissioner from two to three failed by an appreciable margin. The others — sheriff, clerk and recorder, treasurer and assessor — failed by less than 10 percentage points, and the questions involving clerk and recorder and sheriff failed by less than 2 percentage points.

Considering the results of these three elections, it seems clear that the attitudes and positions of voters are shifting in favor of either reducing or eliminating term limits for at least some county officials, and we are gratified to see this trend.

We say this for several reasons.

First, while term limits probably play a necessary role at the state and national levels — where deep-pocketed political action committees and lobbyists can exert undue influence upon ensconced incumbency — this is simply not the case at the local level.

Second, with the exception of the office of county commissioner, the offices in question are more professional than political in nature. Take, for example, the office of county sheriff, a role that requires a specific skill set, highly specialized education and training and extensive experience in the field of law enforcement. If we continue to arbitrarily limit the length of time that may be served by a sheriff to eight years, how long will it be before we run out of qualified candidates for the job? The same could be said for the offices of clerk and recorder, treasurer, coroner and surveyor. In our view, it seems a bit shortsighted to arbitrarily limit the time a qualified and effective professional may keep his or her job.

Third, limiting terms for such professional positions may serve as a deterrent for qualified candidates — particularly younger candidates — to seek office.

Craig Mayor John Ponikvar, who helped place some of the previously discussed measures on the ballot, says that these artificial limits are causing us to lose "too many good people."

"The people in Moffat County always think there's someone to step up, and a lot of times, there isn't," Ponikvar said. "It's a deterrent for young people to run. What 35- or 40-year-old is going to run for office when they know they're going to be out in eight years?"

The principle argument for retaining term limits always goes back to protecting the electorate from ensconced incumbency. Back in 2002, when the second attempt to overturn term limits was being debated, then-County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson explained it in this way:

"I'm passionate that it's the people that run this county," Dickinson said then. "Unfortunately, the average voter does not have enough interaction with offices to really know what's going on. Most voters do not take the time … to be aware of what's going on in county government. The voters need term limits for their protection, because they do not have enough interaction with elected officials."

With all due respect to the former commissioner, we think this statement sells voters far short and suggests the electorate needs a nanny to protect it from itself.

We vehemently disagree, and while there is currently no organized effort to again attempt an end to term limits, we hope our Board of County Commissioners — the only body with the power to place such an issue on the ballot — will remain open to the possibility of again approaching voters about making this needed change.

As Ponikvar noted, assuming we have an informed and engaged electorate — and we're convinced that assumption is valid — a more organic form of term limits is already in place.

"If they're not doing a good job, we still have term limits," Ponikvar said. "It's called voting them out of office. I hope that people will see that."

So do we, Mayor Ponikver … so do we.

Editorial Board

Renee Campbell, publisher

Jim Patterson, editor

Andy Bockelman, assistant editor

Kaitlyn Marchbanks, community representative

Charlynne Wondra, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at editor@CraigDailyPress.com.