Basalt town government is using a five-point ballot question in the April 1 election to try to clarify its current rule on term limits for the mayor and members of the council.
Basalt currently defers to the Colorado Constitution on term limits. The Constitution limits office holders to two consecutive terms of four years each or a total of eight years. However, the Colorado Municipal League, an association of cities and towns, considers it allowable for a person to move from a council seat to the mayor’s position, or vice versa, without violating the state rule.
Former Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux contemplated a run for a council seat after getting termed out as mayor in 2012. He pulled out of the race after consulting with Town Attorney Tom Smith.
Smith recently said he didn’t tell Duroux he couldn’t run for council in 2012. He said he told him the issue wasn’t “black and white.” Part of the problem is Basalt’s Home Rule Charter doesn’t clearly distinguish the mayor as separate from the council.
The state constitution allows cities and towns to set their own term limits, so that’s what Basalt is proposing. Town Manager Mike Scanlon, who took the post in the fall of 2012, said he didn’t want the staff to have to interpret the rules prior to some future election. He proposed the ballot question for clarity.
The current council voted 5-2 on Feb. 26 to put the question on the ballot. The ballot question has five separate provisions:
1. It sets a limit of two consecutive terms, or eight years total, for the office of mayor and the council seats.
2. It designates the mayor and council seats as distinctly separate. That means a person could serve eight years as a council member and eight years as mayor, or 16 years consecutively.
3. Terms would be considered consecutive unless they are at least four years apart.
4. A term is considered full even if a person resigns.
5. A term isn’t counted as full if a person is appointed or elected to fill a vacancy.
Voters will be asked to vote “yes” or “no” on the question as a whole, not the individual pieces.
At a forum Monday night for the Basalt Town Council election, three of the four candidates attending said they don’t support boosting the potential time in office to 16 years.
“I’m for limiting the term of any elected official,” said candidate Richard Duddy. Incumbent Councilman Mark Kittle concurred.
Candidate Jeff Orsulak said he would stick to the limits of two terms, or eight years total, because he feels that would be a good way to encourage turnover and involve more people to participate in town government.
Critics of term limits, at any level of government, have argued that voters always have the ability to limit terms by voting out an incumbent. An effective elected official shouldn’t be automatically ousted by term limits, they contend.
Candidate Bernie Grauer said he supports the ballot question. It is a step in the right direction even though it’s not perfect, he said.
“It gives some clarity to the charter,” Grauer said. “If we don’t vote for it, it remains a gray area.”
However, the question isn’t perfect because it would allow a person to spend up to 16 consecutive years in office, Grauer said.
The term limits issue is the only question on the ballot.