BLOG: Term Limits Have Been Around as Long as There Have Been Democracies

Term limits help curb tyranny and avoid abuses of power. Term limits keep elected officials accountable to the public.

They were the cornerstone of Athenian democracy. In the days of the Republic, Romans were vigilant about attempts to undermine them. George Washington believed in them.

So why is it that the defenders of the status quo are always complaining that term limits are “undemocratic?” If you like an incumbent and their politics, why should you be limited to the number of times you can vote for that person?

Term limits are a necessary limit on unfettered “choice.” From the earliest days of democracy, it became apparent that there were those who would exploit opportunities to hold power and then never relinquish it. Indeed fears of tyranny were among the reasons the Greeks and Romans were so adamant in including strict term limits on elected office holders.

The democratic ideal was that of selfless service. You served because it was a duty and an honor. The idea of holding power in and of itself was always considered antithetical to the concept of democracy. The notion of Cincinnatus returning to his plow after saving the Roman Republic was one of the democratic legends that inspired our own Founding Fathers.   

George Washington was disappointed that the Constitutional Convention did not put limits on the terms of the new Republic’s executive. He set an example of serving only two terms, a tradition which lasted without the need to be enshrined in law for nearly one hundred and fifty years.

If you don’t think term limits are necessary to avoid abuses of power, just ask anyone from Egypt, Belarus, North Korea or a host of African nations. Even the Chinese Communists instituted a single ten-year term for their chief executive, wanting to avoid another Mao Tse-tung. 

The opponents of term limits always tout the need for stability and continuity. Certainly any incumbent would subscribe to that. But long-term incumbency leads to smug and non-responsive government and discourages public discourse and participation, symptoms of political malaise that we see here in West Hollywood. When buffered from serious electoral challenges, government tends to become insular and unaccountable. The ability to immunize themselves from public scrutiny fosters a culture where corruption can and will flourish. 

As we are seeing in our own town, long-term incumbents are more reliant upon the support from big developers than they are upon the residents. Certainly they are more responsive to the needs of developers than the concerns about our residential quality of life.

We are constantly lectured by condescending incumbents that without large-scale development, West Hollywood cannot sustain our level of social services and law enforcement. Well if that is true, that means that the government we have created is not sustainable. What happens when you run out of space? 

Indeed, even while shedding alligator tears for the lost of rent-controlled housing, they refuse to repeal the City’s existing policies that currently encourage the demolition of such housing for luxury condos. Luxury condos generate more property taxes and bring in folks less demanding of City services. While our long-term incumbents may have a vision for West Hollywood, many of us are not going to be a part of that future if City refuses to protect our stock of existing affordable housing. 

The lack of vision in regard to housing was vividly brought into focus during the recent controversial vote on the El Mirador, a culturally designated apartment building at Sweetzer and Fountain. After evicting the tenants, the Council granted the owner the right to convert the historic building to a hotel. But even the Council members who opposed the conversion offered no alternatives that would discourage or prevent further evictions for similarly situated tenants. The fact is that the longest serving and most experienced Council members clearly have no plans or political will to stop such conversions demonstrates that the benefits of not having term limits are largely illusory.

With the exception of John D’Amico, the current City Council rabidly oppose term limits claiming that they are “undemocratic” in that they deny the public the benefit of their right to serve for life. Apparently their vision of West Hollywood is to have a City Council of 80-year olds dominating the democratic process. 

If our current Council is respectful of the democratic process, why would they build an ostentatious Council Chambers with a capacity of only half of their former meeting place? Why would they fire the original consultant for the General Plan who faithfully reported the residents’ opposition to five- and six-story buildings along Santa Monica Boulevard? 

If our public servants cared so much for public participation, why would Council member Duran announce during a recent meeting that he ignores the testimony of people attending the meeting because he “knows” the pulse of the community?

While the Council majority sanctimoniously pretends to be defenders of the democracy in West Hollywood, our recent history proves otherwise.

When a position on City Council became vacant, the remaining members quickly declared that the City could not “afford” the luxury of having a special election. Instead they would appoint someone to file the uncompleted term of Sal Guarriello.

Although many people in the community urged the Council to appoint someone who would serve as an interim member and promise not to run for election, the City Council instead skipped over at least a dozen experienced applicants to appoint someone who had only lived in the City eighteen months. 

It was pretty clear to most people that Lindsey Horvath’s only real credential was the she was a good friend of Abbe Land and would be a compliant member of the Heilman/Land clique. Obviously the long-term incumbents were not concerned about putting someone with any knowledge or experience with the City, the very traits they claim are so important to keeping them in office.

Such hypocrisy was obvious to most observers. Part of John D’Amico’s popularity as a candidate was his promise to only serve two terms. If residents were so unconcerned about political longevity on the Council, D’Amico would have not made the issue part of his campaign platform.

While the City Council felt that the cost of holding an election to fill the Council vacancy was too high, clearly the residents of West Hollywood are paying a high price for Council members who feel that they have a duty to serve for life. 

So if you see a volunteer with a petition to put term limits on the ballot next March, stop and at least debate the issue with them. You can check out the term limits campaign on WeHoTermLimits.com.  A little help to gather signatures to qualify for the March ballot would be appreciated. You can help create a better future for West Hollywood.

Steve Martin

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Brian Hamilton September 02, 2012 at 09:47 PM
Spare me the pitiful self-victimization. So, the answer is you're doing nothing to create change. That's where we differ. "You're either part of the PROBLEM or you're part of the SOLUTION." You, Scott Ferguson, are part of the problem. And yes, you are (an internet) troll. Look it up.
scott ferguson September 02, 2012 at 10:10 PM
I do plenty in my life to create change. Among the areas in my life where I work to create change, the government of the city of West Hollywood, based on my experience of living here for many years, is near the bottom of my priorities. I said I respected the beliefs of those who have different experiences and opinions. Obviously, you are incapable of returning the favor, and respond with name-calling and personal attacks. That is a far more accurate definition of being an internet troll than me stating opinions that in this forum are in the minority.
michael September 02, 2012 at 11:07 PM
Scott is part of the problem only because he happens to disagree with your views. It's been a very hot week, unbearable at times, and believe me, John Heilman had nothing to do with it.....I swear.
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Hey Scoot - Yoo Hoo - you never ansqwered my question about how I could possibly want or be threat to you face to face. I can't imagine what you have that is important you are afraid of meeting people you talk to online.
GoodGriefCharlieBrown September 03, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Looks like Chloe Ross is looking for a date. Lonely much?
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Welll, well, well - aren't you just a card. Yup, I am looking for a date with a gay man so I can leave my much younger husband and run away to the Norma Triangle and walk dogs. You got it.
scott ferguson September 03, 2012 at 01:53 AM
Chloe, I'd prefer us to have a mutually respectful relationship with you on line. If after a truce where I feel you can be trusted, who knows if we might meet sometime. I actually would like to meet some of the rational anti-council members at some point. After months here, I am no closer to figuring out the basis for what seems to me often to be the personal, not political, animus that seems to drive so many here. (Not talking about you in this case Chloe, in case there is any confusion). And as I've said, despite the nastiness directed at me (and unfortunately, as recently as today you've been part of it), I still remain open when elections come around to voting for qualified, rational alternative candidates for the council. I don't think it's a good idea for us to have more than one new member each cycle so that there is still continuity and experience is added on a staggered basis, but I have no open-ended commitment to anyone on the council.
Manny September 03, 2012 at 06:07 AM
Without the benefit of term limits, who do we think are good quality candiates that can win? Who are they?
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 06:33 AM
"Chloe, I'd prefer us to have a mutually respectful relationship with you on line. If after a truce where 'I feel you can be trusted', who knows if we might meet sometime."?????? Devote your judgment calls to those who need assessment. I am not that person. Never mind.
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 06:35 AM
Just one more question - are you deformed or agoraphobic. It would go a long way to explaining what ever is wrong with you.
michael September 03, 2012 at 04:24 PM
chloe, Have you no shame.
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Not at this point, none.
michael September 03, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Cloe, You are an intelligent , passionate, activist. No call for personal attacks.
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 05:05 PM
It was not any type of an attack sir, (I don't know who you are; my late husband's name was Michael and I know he is dead). If SF were a woman I would suggest a burqa. Unless he is ashamed of his appearance or just barking mad - his MI6 cloak and swagger business is damn silly. I tailor the questions to fit the occasion. And moreover sir, it was not an attack. I may not be the passionate, intelligent activist you think - perhaps I just play one on television. I appreciate your chastisement but both my folks are long gone and so is my patience for scolding. Have a wonderful Labor Day.
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 05:05 PM
And you spelled my name wrong.
Cathy September 03, 2012 at 05:37 PM
@Scott et al...personally, my involvement started when I realized that where I live, between Fairfax & La Brea, Santa Monica & Fountain has been rezoned for 5, 7, & up to 11 story buildings, not to mention the ill-fated plan for destroying over 54 old growth trees in Plummer Park to make way for an additional 69 more parking spaces. The current City Council, in my opinion, has put development, development, more development and parking ahead of the wants and needs of many in the community. I loved moving from congested NYC to what was billed as, an "urban village" over 20 years ago. On my end of town right now, on the corners of Fountain & La Brea & La Brea & SMB the Monarch projects will add over 360 new apartments. As soon as a new developer buys Movietown plaza, (SMB between Fuller & Poinsettia) we are promised two 10 story apartment buildings with an additional 350+ apartments. Does the idea of trying to, put 25 lbs of sugar in a 5 lb bag make my point? I am in favor of term limits. I am just sorry that if passed, they cannot be retroactive. If passed, maybe, just maybe in part, the citizens of West Hollywood will be saying to this City Council that their original vision for an "urban village" has been trumped (pun intended) by over development & it is time to stop the emphasis on urban, and put it on back on village! If you would like to sign Term Limits petition, we are at Plummer Park today, 12pm-2pm....we've got pens. (N. Vista & Lexington entrance)
scott ferguson September 03, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Chloe I refuse to get down in the mud with you, no matter how hard you try to drag me down with you. Your posts toward me have been personal, vicious, bully-like. I will not comment on what this implies about you, since I don't know you, and I suspect in non-cyber life you are better than you represent yourself here. All this comes from us having different opinions, and my have the audacity to respectfully give mine, back them up with evidence when possible and otherwise try to advance a respectful position. That seems to cause your less noble and civil side to come forth. That's your problem, not mine. I will continue to engage you and others, and continue to do so respectfully. Whatever damage is done by your attacks is to you, not me.
Manny September 03, 2012 at 05:51 PM
If term limits don't get enacted or if they do 13 years from now.....Who do you think are good quality candidates to run for council NOW? Name some......
scott ferguson September 03, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Cathy Thanks for you informative post. I have little knowledge or contact with your part of town. I live in the middle of one of the busiest parts of the city, with plenty of development since I have lived here. From where I sit - and obviously we are influenced by that most of all - this is a wonderful urban village, just about ideal under the circumstances. Your post though just reinforces an earlier point of mine. You are concerned, and likely with justification, about the development in your area now. How is changing the law in 2025 going to change your concerns? And more importantly, why arethose of your pushing for what I see as an unnecessary and anti-democratic move wasting your time when you could be preparing for elections less than a year from now, coalescing (optimally) around one candidate to win a seat and join John D'Amico as an independent voice? That would make sense. What are you are doing instead seems like a panacea to make the anti-council forces win some sort of for now meaningless "gotcha" revenge. I appreciate political efficacy in my leaders. One of the reasons I am concerned by the anti-council forces is they seem to have a hard time figuring what they want, how to convince others to join them, and how to achieve their goals. This seems to be another example of this.
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 05:57 PM
OTW. Brava
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 06:00 PM
What I admire most about SF is his facile ability to never answer a direct question.
scott ferguson September 03, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Back to part of Cathy's comments - One of the complaints I here most about West Hollywood is the lack of rental spaces as more buildings convert to condos or rent control limits turnover. I assume some of the growth in your area is meant to answer that very real concern, expressed by many to council members. Again, I don't know the specifics about your particular location. But my guess is many people approve of new apartments. The population of WeHo has fallen in recent years, making the city less dense. I understand the impulse to wanting to create new apartments.
Rudolf Martin September 03, 2012 at 06:20 PM
I never thought I'd say this but I agree with "scott ferguson" that in order to get some positive change in WeHo it is more important for people to focus on finding and supporting good viable candidates for the next election than to get term limits on the ballot. however, I don't see how this is a question of one or the other. surely residents who care about their community are able to walk and chew gum at the same time? steve martin makes a good case for a very tame and reasonable proposal. i do support putting term limits on the ballot. although they are not the solution they will take the edge off the problem.
Rudolf Martin September 03, 2012 at 06:24 PM
the majority of residents would not be able to name a single council member.
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Quite right Rudolf and if asked how they are doing most would say fine but I really don't know much about it. I don't pay attention.
michael September 03, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Chloe, Your kind, calm, and intelligent response to me says it all. Thank you.
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 09:37 PM
The other day I asked a neighbor of mine (about 30 with wife and kid - Iowa born) about the 2012 race and he asked me who was president now and wasn't the guy from the Middle East or something. Why would I imagine a different, smarter, engaged answer on the city of WeHo? And I knew all the answers to these types of questions at 20 and 30 = on and on. Michael - you're welcome.
michael September 03, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Suggested reading, is Carl Cronin's brilliant blog on "Term Limits", currently in wehonews.com
Chloe Ross September 03, 2012 at 11:12 PM
GoodGriefCharlieBrown September 04, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Touche' mon amie!


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