Out of the blue last week, a number of trustees sitting on the Riverside Village Board – including three who will be walking away from the job in April – expressed support for exploring a referendum that would limit the terms of future elected officials.
Trustee Joseph Ballerine went so far as to urge his colleagues to support a resolution stating this particular board's preference for a referendum and to send a message to the next board so that they might take up the cause.
Support for a term limit referendum was also expressed by trustees Michael Sedivy, Scott Lumsden and Wendell Jisa, who gave various and at times contradictory reasons for that support.
Jisa said he believed term limits would usher in a revitalization of village government, opening up village government to a new generation of talented volunteers who somehow have felt shut out of the past process.
Sedivy came at it from the other direction, saying that in the absence of the Riverside Community Caucus, which self-policed term limits through its bylaws, a void could open Riverside up to partisan politics and one-issue candidates. Term limits would limit their impact.
The village board is not done talking about the matter and could discuss it again at their next meeting in another week. But, to be clear, this village board can do exactly nothing about term limits, because it's too late.
Three of the four who expressed support for terms limits at the village board's meeting last week are leaving the board this spring – Sedivy and Lumsden after just one term each. Ballerine term-limited himself in the spirit of the Riverside Caucus' past practice.
It's interesting that the motivation for this now appears to be the loss of the caucus, long criticized by a segment of the village for being a bit clubby and exclusive. Indeed, that was a main theme of the last slate of candidates who were elected without the support of the caucus in 2009.
Interestingly enough, that group, who were not bound by the caucus' bylaws, did not embark on a decades-long domination of the village board. They quietly bowed out after one term.
In the four trustee races since that 2009 election, there were 12 seats up for grabs. Only two of the candidates during that time –Ballerine and Doug Pollock -- sought another term.
What this term-limit bid is looking like to us is a solution in search of a problem.
The issue isn't that Riverside residents are climbing over one another to set up lifetime sinecures, it's that too few are willing to do it for more than four years.
If Riverside starts limiting terms, our prediction is that then you'll start seeing the one-issue candidates, the cranks and crackpots who sign up because there's no interference. Say what you will about the caucus, but perhaps the reason it was seen as exclusive is that the number who are willing to serve on the village board – for no pay, no benefits, no compensation whatsoever save the warm glow of public service – is a pretty exclusive set of people.
There has been, and there continues to be, no barrier to any group of citizens who want to recruit, vet and endorse candidates for office. There's no barrier to anyone wishing to run at any time.