Term limit repeal on county ballot
A ballot proposal that would have repealed term limits for their posts and for all other elected Eagle County officials was soundly rejected by voters four years ago. Citizens opted to maintain the two-term restriction – eight consecutive years in office – mandated by state law.
The county commissioners are ready to give term limit repeal another try on the Nov. 5 ballot, but this time they’ll put the question to the voters in a different format. Instead of lumping all the county elected offices together in a single term limit question, the ballot will contain seven separate questions, in which voters will pick and choose whether they want term limits on the offices of commissioner, assessor, clerk and recorder, coroner, sheriff, surveyor, and treasurer.
County Administrator Jack Ingstad said the “smorgasbord” approach the county has chosen for the ballot question will allow voters to decide which offices should appropriately be removed from term limits.
The county’s 1998 term limit repeal lumped all county offices, including county commissioners, together. Some 61 percent of the voters who cast ballots wanted to keep term limits.
That election did not involve any real campaigning. Conflict of interest laws generally restrict acting county officials from spending money or actively campaigning on such an issue.
Even if this year’s voters agree to remove the term limitations, that permission will come too late for Barnes, Johnson, Fisher and Surveyor Jim Kunkel. All have held their jobs for multiple terms, but became subject to the Colorado term limit law when it was approved by voters several years ago.
County Commissioner Tom Stone is seeking his second term as a commissioner in the upcoming election.
A number of Colorado counties, particularly those on the eastern plains, have removed term limit restrictions from county offices. Larry Kallenberger, executive director of Colorado Counties, Inc., says voters are slightly more willing to remove term limits on county officials other than county commissioners. When it comes to the Board of Commissioners, citizens tend to favor term limits.
Kallenberger surmised that many citizens tend to look at commissioners as holding a “policy maker” type job that an average person could handle; while other county offices, such as assessor or sheriff, are viewed as more technical positions requiring specialized knowledge. Voters are willing to keep those people with specialized skills in office longer.
“Many citizens feel like being able to replace commissioners periodically is maybe a good thing; whereas they may look at a position such as assessor and think “that’s a pretty rough job to do’,” said Kallenberger. He estimated that voters are about twice as likely to remove term limits from other county elected offices as they are to remove term limits from the county commissioner positions.
Kallenberger said a struggling economy on the Eastern Plains probably is a factor in voters lifting term limits on county offices.
“When the economy is bad, those people understand they are probably not going to make it without a strong coalition of government and business officials. If they have good people in office, they want to keep them. They are trying to survive,” he said.
Ingstad noted that the public has a natural tendency to return an incumbent to office. He said one of the problems with term limits is that they can displace a qualified official who has years of training and education and understands the job.
On the other hand, Ingstad noted that the election system itself is a term-limiting tool.
“I personally don’t like them (term limits)…if voters are unhappy with a particular individual, they can vote them out,” he said.
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.