Riverside voters will encounter an orphaned referendum on the March 17 ballot. Crafted and abandoned by the village board. Like some forgotten land mine, Referendum Question 1 could blow a hole in local government if approved.
The village board is asking the electorate, at a traditionally low turnout primary election, to make a significant change to the structure of local government, without offering any supporting rationale for doing so.
The referendum purports to address limiting terms for the elective offices of village president and village trustee. But its actual result may be just the opposite – increasing the length of time actually, rather than theoretically, served by any individual.
First a little history: The Riverside Community Caucus (RCC) has traditionally limited its endorsement of a candidate to two consecutive full terms. The RCC sat out last year’s municipal election while it underwent reorganization.
But rumors of its demise were greatly exaggerated. The RCC’s new bylaws state that the “maximum terms for each office shall be: … Two (2) consecutive full 4-year elected terms.” The RCC is currently planning for next year’s municipal elections.
No village officer has been elected to a third term since 1985 – 35 years ago. Many trustees choose to serve only one term. Two of the last three village presidents (excluding the current officeholder) have also chosen to serve a single term.
Bottom line: The terrifying idea “of having the same trustee sitting here for 30 years” is a fiction. In Riverside, a maximum of eight consecutive years is the accepted norm.
So what’s the harm in approving the referendum?
First, this referendum is binding, not advisory. Approval would change what is viewed as acceptable service from two to three consecutive terms. The first election to be impacted by the mandated term limits would be held in 2033 – a full 13 years from now.
Second, this referendum is prospective, not retroactive. Which means that current elected officials could serve four or five consecutive terms before the “limits” kick in. Current officials could colorably argue that it is the mandated “will” of the electorate that they serve longer, because the impact of the referendum was known at the time of the vote.
Limiting terms through this referendum will not increase participation in village government. The prospect of waiting a dozen years is no incentive to get involved. A better “tool” to achieve the dual goals of limiting terms and increasing participation exists – the non-partisan Riverside Community Caucus. Membership is open to all voters registered in the village. Collaboration, not coercion, is key to sustaining and improving local government.
Vote “no” to Riverside Referendum Question 1.
Kevin Smith is a Riverside resident and chairman of the Riverside Community Caucus. He wrote this op-ed as a private citizen, not in his official capacity as RCC chairman.