County Council rejects term limitations

January 09, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

In an unusual move, the Harford County Council Tuesday voted 5-2 to reject on introduction a bill to establish term limits for council members.

The bill, sponsored by District D Republican Barry Glassman, would have limited council members to two consecutive four-year terms in office.

"I don't see any point in spending more time on this bill," said Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, who moved to reject the bill immediately after it was read into the record. The move was seconded by Susan B. Heselton, R-District A, and a vote was taken without debate.

Mr. Wagner said he was not opposed to the idea of term limits when Mr. Glassman first raised the issue informally more than a year ago, but that he now believes legislating limits is unnecessary.

"Voters have enough sense to make a decision [on whether to re-elect an official] every four years," he said.

The defeat on introduction prevents the bill from being &r discussed at a public hearing.

Traditionally, any bill introduced in the council is scheduled for a hearing, usually about 30 days after its introduction. A vote by the council to accept or reject the bill is required within 45 working days of the bill's introduction.

This is the first time in this council's three-year term -- and the only time in members' memory -- that a bill has been defeated before its scheduled public hearing.

If approved by the council, the legislation would have been put to a vote by the public in next November's election as a proposed amendment to the County Charter, and, if approved, would have become law 30 days later.

"I consider this a personal affront to me and the citizens of Harford County," said a visibly angry Mr. Glassman, who added that there is enough support in the community to bring the issue to referendum in the general election through petitioning.

The signatures of 10,000 registered voters would be required on petitions to put the charter amendment on the November ballot.

Mr. Glassman vowed to include on the petitions the names of council members "who wouldn't allow citizens of this community a public hearing."

Besides Mr. Wagner and Mrs. Heselton, those voting to reject the bill were Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C; Philip J. Barker, D-District F; and Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson. Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, supported the bill.

While drafting the legislation last fall, Mr. Glassman said his bill was part of an overall reform effort at all levels of government.

"People are looking for ways to right our political system," Mr. Glassman said, "and I think we need to start where government is closest to the people."

But the majority of his colleagues disagreed on Tuesday, claiming that term limits are not a necessity at the local level, at least not in Harford County.

"It's just not been a problem here," said Mr. Wilson, who noted that only three council members have served more than two consecutive terms in the last 21 years. They are Barbara A. Rasacher, John W. Hardwicke and John W. Schafer.

"In my three years in office, I have not heard one comment from the public about this," Mrs. Pierno said.

"I don't see it as an issue, and I don't think the public sees it as an issue," she said. "The voters have made it clear every four years that they can replace people in office if they choose."

Bel Air attorney Michael Leaf, one of the few residents who came out for the council meeting on the icy evening, said he was appalled by the council's decision that effectively prevented public discussion.

"I don't know if it's an issue or not, but I believe citizens should have a chance to come forward and discuss it," he said after the vote. "I am 100 percent against term limits, but I am 100 percent for citizen debate."

He advised council members to use the option of rejecting a bill upon introduction for "trivial matters," rather than for an issue as wide-reaching as term limits.

In other business Tuesday evening, the council voted 4-3 against a bill that would have required contractors on county capital improvement projects to offer their workers a health insurance plan.

The bill, introduced by Mr. Wilson and radically amended "in the spirit of compromise," would not have required businesses to pay for workers' insurance, but only to offer them an opportunity to purchase insurance through the company.

"Even in this grossly weakened form, it will help set some standards for workers on projects for Harford County," Mr. Wilson told his colleagues.

He said that the bill would also help ensure that the county gets "quality contractors" on its construction projects and would "preclude fly-by-night operations."

But opponents said that health insurance availability and ensuring the reputation of a contractor are separate issues.

"Unfortunately, we have had problems with the Board of Education," said Mrs. Parrott, referring to delays by contractors on school construction projects last year. But she said she didn't think the health benefits bill would prevent those difficulties from recurring.

Mr. Barker concurred. "I believe this bill was brought forward because contractor compliance was failing. Well, I fail to see how worker health insurance and compliance are related," he said.

Mr. Wagner and Mr. Glassman also opposed the bill.

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