Stow Charter Review Commission seeks to clarify term limit language for elected officials

Body also discusses staggering elections for city council seats

LAURA FREEMAN Reporter
The Charter Review Commission is looking at defining what eight-year term limitations means, especially for someone like Mayor John Pribonic, who was first elected in 2018 to an unexpired one-year term after previous Mayor Sara Kline resigned. Under the current language of the charter, his eight years of service would expire before an election year.

STOW – The Charter Review Commission June 3 reviewed the first 12 articles in the charter and decided to examine the term limit language, as well as the possibility of staggering the terms for city council seats.

One of the items is clarifying what eight years means for term limits, which would affect all elected officials.

Currently Charter section 21.08 states that “since Jan. 2, 2012, no elected official shall serve more than eight consecutive years in the same elected office. Any elected person disqualified from holding public office due to the aforementioned term limitation shall become eligible to hold the same public office upon the expiration of two years.”

Because the charter says eight consecutive years, if someone is appointed to a seat, the appointed years of service count as well as those in an elected two- or four-year term, and the eight years may end before an election year, requiring another appointment.

Commission Vice Chair Deborah Martz said the term limit should be defined as no more than two full terms and appointed years wouldn’t count against the official tally.

“I don’t see how you can penalize someone who steps up to fill a void and is appointed,” said commission member Charles Obendorf.

Law Director Jaime Syx said someone who is appointed runs for the office in the next election, and she would look at the wording for the commission to review.

The other item discussed was staggering terms for council so that all positions are not filled by rookie members at the same time. Council is composed of seven members, one from each of the four wards and three at-large members each serving two years.

Of the current council members, President Sindi Harrison (Ward 2) had less than a year of experience and the remaining six members were new to council beginning in 2020 when the two-year term began for all of them.

When their eight-year terms expire, if they are re-elected every two years, they would all leave office at the end of 2027 except for Harrison who would have to leave in 2026. If no new member was elected during those eight years, the new council would have no experienced members.

Council members will next run for office in 2021 and start their new terms in 2022.

Martz proposed staggering terms by having Ward Council members run for a two-year term in 2021, while at-large could be elected for a four-year term. In 2023 ward members would then run for a four-year term and serve for the ensuing four years.

Chair John Baranek proposed having at-large council members run for two years initially and ward council members run for four years.

Commission member John Moyer wanted to know if two-year or four-year terms were better for council.

Commission members wanted to run the idea of four-year terms and staggered terms by council members and receive their feedback before proceeding with the wording of any amendment.

Some of the other changes discussed which may or may not appear on the ballot included changing the organizational meeting time for council at the first of the year to be more flexible for date and time.

The charter currently specifies that the organizational meeting will happen at 8 p.m. on “the first regular working day of January of each year.” 

Other potential changes included simplifying the manner of posting of resolutions and public notices.

The Charter Review Commission will look at Charter articles 13-16 on June 10.

Gannett reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at lfreeman@recordpub.com