Proposed Term Limits Could Require State Law, Charter Change

After learning it would require a Charter amendment to establish term limits for appointed members of Boards and Committees, Londonderry Times Publisher Deb Paul said she would like to pursue making the change.

A few weeks ago, Paul submitted a citizen’s petition that would place term limits on appointed boards, commissions and committees for a maximum of three consecutive full terms. Additionally, her proposal stated “no individual may serve as chairperson of any one committee, commission or board for more than two consecutive years; and no individual may serve as chair of more than one board, commission or committee at a time.”

Town Manager Kevin Smith notified Paul shortly thereafter that the Town Attorney advised the petition would be unlawful.

“The citizen’s petition would be unlawful because it would violate the Town Charter. The Town Charter contains express qualifications for serving on an appointed board or commission,” the Town’s Attorney, Mike Ramsdell, wrote in an email to Smith. “Some of the qualifications are limitations. Importantly, however, the limitations on qualifications do not include term limits,”

Further, the Town Charter grants the Town Council authority to appoint members to boards and commissions, with that authority sometimes shared by the town manager or another position or entity – the power is not limited by term limits.

“Accordingly, the term limits proposed in the citizen’s petition would violate the Town Charter because it would establish a qualification for membership, and it would restrict the appointing authority’s power in manners inconsistent with the relevant provisions of the Charter,” Ramsdell wrote.

Additionally, the proposed citizen’s petition conflicts with State law, specifically, statute 673:9 Term of Chairperson and Officers: “The term of every officer and chairperson elected by a local land use board will be one year. Both the chairperson and officers will be eligible for reelection.”

“I just think that change is a good thing. I know (Town Councilor Tom Dolan) has said many times we are the ones who set the bar for things. Just because no one is doing it doesn’t mean it isn’t a good thing to do,” Paul said at Monday night’s Town Council meeting about pursuing term limits.

According to the Town Charter, Article 8, Section 8.6, a Charter amendment may be initiated either by the Council or by initiative petition, public hearing, and voter election pursuant to State Law.

Councilor John Farrell said Monday night he thinks a Charter Commission would have to be established to make the amendment, but asked that Smith consult with the Town Attorney to determine how the Town would proceed with a proposed charter change.

“I believe we would need to go through a vote to see if the voters want a Charter Commission to reopen the Charter,” he said during the Council’s Dec. 21 meeting. “This change would affect half a dozen sections in the Charter.”

A representative from the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office said a Charter Change would be handled at the local level.

Paul said she would like to see the change to ensure new people who want to serve the community have the opportunity.

“There have been people on some boards for 18 years plus, even on the Council. What happens is, people feel if the same people run, people feel they can’t beat you, John Farrell (for example). This would keep new people coming and things fresh, and make sure there is not a ‘good ol’ boy network’, cronyism and power. Term limits keep everybody honest,” she said. “I wish it would go through the federal government.”

Farrell asked Paul if she is suggesting there is corruption in the Town’s volunteer leadership.

“That’s not what I’m saying,” Paul said. “We seem to have a hard time getting people to percolate up. I had been put into the Chairman position and I had no idea how to do it. I think if you keep pushing people through, forcing them out of their comfort zone, that’s really where that’s coming from.”

Councilor Jim Butler said he took exception to what Paul said.

“When I ran for Council, I knew no one in town. There was no ‘old cronyism,’ but people elected me,” he said. “The second time around, no one ran against me. I take offense when you say there’s cronyism and back door deals. If you have a personal agenda or something against a chairman, say it now.”

Butler also said he likes change and agrees the Town needs fresh faces to serve on boards, committees and the Council.

Councilor Joe Green also agreed, saying when volunteers no longer “have skin in the game,” it’s time they move on.

“We need to have new blood, young blood to come forward,” he said. “We want the younger generation to come in and start making decisions. If you’re in the same position for 15-20 years, move over and give someone else a chance. I don’t disagree with anyone, necessarily, up here; I think term limits is a good idea. Term limits on both elected and appointed boards.”

According to the Town Attorney, establishing term limits for elected officials would be contrary to State law.

Paul said she would like to pursue term limits only for appointed board and committee members due to the conflict that term limits for elected officials presents.

 

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