The Riverside Village Board will discuss a proposed referendum question to limit the terms of the president and trustees at their next meeting on March 7 and could vote in late April to approve a resolution that would place such a question on the March 2020 primary ballot.
When the matter comes back to the board next month, the question they’ll debate – and which they could change or reject entirely – will ask to limit the president and trustees each to three consecutive terms.
That draft question was proposed by Trustee Doug Pollock, who does not favor limiting terms, saying he hadn’t heard a compelling reason for doing so by proponents.
“What are the substantive reasons? Show me in a logical fashion, step by step, how we would benefit from this,” Pollock said. “And I have yet to hear that.”
During two consecutive village meetings in February trustees debated the merits of limiting terms for elected municipal officials, with trustees Michael Sedivy and Wendell Jisa expressing strong support for term limits.
Both Sedivy and Jisa favor limiting trustees and the village president to two consecutive terms and for the question to be retroactive, meaning it would apply to elected officials already sitting on the board at the time the referendum was approved for a vote.
“I still feel this is the perfect board to decide on this, because we have three folks leaving the board that have nothing to win or lose in the decision,” Jisa said.
Sedivy in particular pushed for a specific question to debate at the March 7 meeting in order to allow enough time for the present village board to act before a new board is sworn in. The sitting board will convene four more times before Sedivy and trustees Scott Lumsden and Joseph Ballerine, who also favor term limits, leave the board.
One of the reasons for the urgency to act, Sedivy said, was that the Riverside Community Caucus at present is not involved in vetting and endorsing candidates for office. While the Caucus did not rule out a third term for elected officials, it discouraged the practice – so effectively that it only happened once in almost a century.
“It’s been 90 years where the Caucus directed it and it’s happened, to the best we can tell, one time,” Sedivy said. “That’s not because no one wanted to do it three times, it’s because the Caucus discouraged it and encouraged other people to get involved, and people honored that.”
The idea of term limits has received firm pushback by President Ben Sells as well as Pollock, both of whom would be affected by the new law if Sedivy and Jisa’s preferred model is approved by voters.
Neither Sells nor Pollock has stated they will run for a third term, but Pollock has said in the past he’d like the choice, just like any other resident.
Asked directly whether they wanted to prevent a sitting board member from running for a third term, Sedivy said that was not his intent.
“I absolutely disagree with the thought that experience is more important than fresh faces and ideas,” Sedivy said in an email to the Landmark. “This is not rocket science and we have professional staff.”
Sells criticized what he called an attempt to fix a system that wasn’t broken, and he also questioned the timing of the election – a presidential primary in March 2020 – for such an important issue.
In the last presidential primary, voter turnout in Riverside Township was 34 percent.
“Why do we choose a presidential primary, when you have less turnout … and you make it extremely difficult for independents to weigh in on the issue?” Sells asked. “So, if you’re going to do it, I say do it right.”
Ballerine, who supports the concept of terms limits, was open to longer limits and the possibility of making a referendum question prospective. His vote might be the swing vote for approving a resolution in April, because Trustee Elizabeth Peters’ opposition to the question appeared to harden on Feb. 21, reiterating her opinion that she didn’t believe limiting terms necessarily would prompt more people to run for village office.
“I’m not seeing the demand to get on this board,” Peters said.
Ballerine acknowledged that instituting term limits would be a significant change for Riverside government, and said he needed more time to think it over.
“Once this bell is rung, it’s hard to un-ring it,” Ballerine said.