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Ballot language expected to include what's meant by 'consecutive years' regarding council and mayor terms

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Tigard City Council is moving forward with letting voters decide how the term consecutive years should be defined when it comes to serving on the city council or as mayor. What's in a name?

More specifically, what does the term "consecutive years" served mean when it comes to a mayor or city council member?

That's exactly what the Tigard City Council is trying to determine as they move toward asking voters to decide what those years, or time served, should include.

The Tigard City Charter states that no one can serve as a council member or as mayor more than eight consecutive years.

"In no case shall any person serve on the City Council for more than 12 consecutive years. These limitations do not apply to the filling of an unexpired term," the charter states.

The council took up the issue during its Dec. 21 meeting, discussing a question that has been circulating for at least the last decade, according to city officials.

During the meeting, Tigard resident Michael Antonelli said he objected to the council discussing the term limits issue only four days before Christmas with virtually no public conversation.

"It seems entirely clear to me what the intent of the 12-year term limit statue is," Antonelli, who is also publisher of the Tigard and Tualatin Life newspapers, told the council. "Redefining the term 'consecutive years' to mean that any break, including resignation on a day before a term ends, resets the 12-year term limit clock is not only a perversion of the city's term limit statute, but also sets the terrible precedent of allowing any council member to run indefinitely, essentially rendering all term limits void."

Antonelli also questioned the ethics of allowing two council members — Mayor Jason Snider and Councilor John Goodhouse — to vote on a measure that could directly benefit them, since both are running for Tigard mayor in 2022.

While Snider said both the Oregon Ethics Commission and the city's attorney have said he could participate in the discussion, he recused himself, saying he didn't want the issue to even have the appearance of being a perceived conflict of interest.

Goodhouse, too, recused himself from the Dec. 21 discussion.

That left three councilors — Council President Heidi Lueb, Liz Newton and Jeanette Shaw — who all favored sending the measure to residents for a vote rather than simply adopting a council resolution on how the term should be defined.

While she supported sticking to the "consecutive years" language, Newton raised questions about the definition of a "term."

"Is it complete term? Is it an expired term? Does it matter if you're elected or appointed?" asked Newton, who was a longtime city employee before retiring in 2017 and entering local politics.

Newton said she has concerns about people resigning early as well, such as if a city councilor resigned before completing their fourth term and then ran again immediately.

Tigard has gone before voters in the past on the topic of term limits, and those voters have made it clear they want term limits of no more than two terms for a mayor and two terms serving as a city council member, she noted.

Newton said the fact a resident has to resign a current seat to run for another seat, such as the case for anyone running for mayor, is where the city gets into "the inequity, if you look at all the different circumstances, being appointed and then being elected."

Shaw acknowledged that while the timing might look suspicious, taking up the issue during the holidays, councilors needed to begin discussing it in December in order to get it to the May ballot.

Ballot language must be submitted to election officials by Feb. 8.

Shaw agreed Tigard needs to ask voters to determine what consecutive means.

"As to (Newton's) point of people resigning early, I think that needs to be addressed," said Shaw, noting there is a penalty for resigning early in some cases and no penalty in others.

Shaw also said she supports having a charter review committee established to develop a framework to help the council going forward.

"I agree with both of you," Lueb, the council president, added after Newton and Shaw spoke.

Lueb also favors having a charter review committee look at the issue so there's no ambiguity in an effort to create "an equity lens about what makes the most sense for Tigard now."

"If we could really define or put forward and say this is — vote yes or no — and if you agree this is the interpretation of consecutive years, I think may be the best way to go and a stepping stone to a full charter review," said Lueb.

Tigard officials expect to begin receiving public input on the issue by the end of the week. That will include an online survey as well as council members hosting outreach events.

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