Battle Ground City Council discusses term limits

No decision was made, but the idea could come back again early next year

BATTLE GROUND — “Term limits.”

Those were the parting words of former Battle Ground City Councilor Steven Phelps, who served a single term in office before leaving at the end of 2019.

In honor of those words, and his own views on the matter, current Councilor Brian Munson brought forward a term limit proposal at this week’s city council meeting.

“A lot of conversations we have with our voters, or with our friends or families is talking about term limits, whether it’s at a federal level or state level,” Munson said on Monday. “Well, if I were to ask my state legislators or federal legislators to invoke term limits on themselves without doing it on myself at the city council level, how unfair is that?”

Battle Ground City Hall. File photo
Battle Ground City Hall. File photo

Munson was appointed to the council’s Position No. 1 in 2016 after Lyle Lamb moved out of town, then won election in 2017. He has not currently said whether he intends to run for re-election this November when his first full term ends.

The proposal Munson introduced on Monday would limit city council members to no more than two consecutive four-year terms, with at least four years before they could run again.

“Looking at this from a pioneering standpoint, we also would set a precedent for our neighbors, Ridgefield, Vancouver, some of the other code cities around us,” said Munson. “And, it really just gives the opportunity for other people to see us make a positive move forward, allowing new faces to come in and learn what politics is about, learn what policy is about.”

Councilor Mike Dalesandro, who recently said he was “self term-limiting” when he announced he wouldn’t seek a third term, said he’s interested in the conversation, but noted that four of the seven council members are currently in the final year of their terms.

“My vantage point would be to have this come up later for discussion, after this election cycle,” Dalesandro said. “For the new council that will be seated in January to talk about.”

The city of Port Angeles implemented term limits for city councilors in 2000, limiting them to three consecutive terms, with a four year gap before candidates could run again. An effort to further limit that to two consecutive terms failed on a 4-3 vote in 2014.

Councilor Shane Bowman noted that Battle Ground led the way in putting term limits on a mayor, who can’t serve more than two consecutive two-year terms, but no other city in Clark County has followed suit.

“I don’t want it to be just like we have with any of our boards or commissions, such as the

parks and community engagement board, or the Planning Commission,” said Bowman, “we’re recycling people through those positions, because nobody is stepping up.”

Bowman noted that most of the current council members who were reelected in 2017 did so without any opposition. The council approved a pay increase for incoming council members in 2019, partly as a way to try and encourage more people to run.

While participation in elections is good, Bowman added, people tend to run most often on partisan issues for a job that is supposed to be nonpartisan.

“We’ll get more people involved, and we’ll have a big tournament, but it doesn’t mean it’s good for the city,” he said. “Because when we have big turnover, and your longest tenured person is  eight years or one term, you don’t get the chance to give that historical perspective, you don’t get the chance to help them out.”

The council’s newest member, Shauna Walters, said she would like to see term limits implemented at some point.

“Two terms is reasonable to do as much as you’re able to do in that period of time, and then let somebody else come in and take it over,” said Walters. “Let somebody else come in and have a new set of eyes on it.”

Councilor Cherish DesRochers, whose first term ends this year, said she would prefer to leave it in the hands of voters.

“If they don’t like somebody, they don’t have to vote for them,” she said. “The other thing is, we’re comparing positions that actually have living wages that people make careers out of. City council seems more voluntary than any career. Anything lucrative.”

At the end of the discussion, four of the seven council members said they would prefer to leave the further discussion of term limits for the next city council to take up next January.