Term limits have long been popular in St. Tammany Parish, where voters in Covington, Mandeville and Slidell have restricted their elected leaders to two terms, and voters parishwide have set a limit of 12 consecutive years for School Board members.
On March 5, voters will consider whether to add Parish Council members to the list of term-limited officials. A proposed amendment to the parish’s home rule charter would limit the 14 members to three four-year terms, beginning in 2020.
The parish president’s office has been limited to three terms since the charter was adopted in 1998.
Early voting runs through Saturday.
Given the parish’s historic approval of such measures, the amendment is likely to pass easily. While St. Tammany’s appetite for term limits isn’t unique, it has been intense. School Board term limits were approved in every parish where they appeared on the ballot in 2012. But they passed with 85 percent of the vote in St. Tammany, the highest margin in the state.
Sandra Slifer, of the St. Tammany League of Women Voters, points to that election as a sign that term limits still resonate strongly on the north shore.
But the amendment is encountering opposition from an unexpected source: Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, which is asking its members to go to the polls but skip voting on the measure. The group is describing the tactic as a protest vote since the so-called “undercount” — those who don’t vote on a particular item — will be tallied.
Rick Franzo, president of the advocacy group, said CCST board members were genuinely torn over what to do. The group has long called for term limits, but it wants a more restrictive two-term limit. It has been especially critical of the fact that the clock won’t start ticking on the three-term limit, if it passes, until the next Parish Council term begins in 2020.
In a news release last week, the group called the ballot measure “a classic lose-lose choice” and a trick to preserve the incumbency of those now serving. People now on the council could remain in office until 2032, no matter how many terms they already have served, the group pointed out.
But the measure also has garnered support. The St. Tammany Chamber West has endorsed it, and the Bureau of Governmental Affairs said it is “generally supportive of term limits for local government executives and legislators.”
That the measure is on the ballot at all is due in large part to public pressure.
A committee formed last year to review the home rule charter and recommend changes said in its report to the council that term limits generated more debate than any other issue.
That panel recommended giving voters three options: no term limits, a three-term limit with a 14-member council or a three-term limit on a reconfigured council with 12 district and two at-large seats.
But the Parish Council, which voted to put nine charter amendments on the November ballot, refused in June to include a three-term limit. Only three council members voted yes: Reid Falconer, Jake Groby and Maureen O’Brien. Opponents called term limits a feel-good measure and pointed to turnover on the council as evidence they aren’t needed.
While CCST was predictably outraged, criticism also began to flow from other quarters.
The St. Tammany Chamber West blasted the decision, saying that 90 percent of its members favored putting term limits to a vote.
“In the spirit of the democratic process, the voters want to decide,” Chamber CEO Lacey Toledano said. “This is what 11 of our Parish Council members voted to deny. We are disappointed in their disregard for what are clearly the wishes of the people whom they represent.”
The council ended up reconsidering the issue and reversing its position in September. But that was too late to get the issue onto the November ballot.
Instead, the measure is the only parishwide item on the March 5 ballot, which also includes presidential primaries. In addition, voters in Mandeville and Madisonville will elect mayors and city and town council members that day.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, at @spagonesadvocat.