MILTON — The topic of term limits for City Council members and the mayor is set for 2018 ballots.
Earlier this year, Councilman Alan Lowery brought up the topic and suggested that members of Milton’s City Council and the mayor be allowed to serve three four-year terms, equating to 12 total years. The item failed at all previous meetings without the support of the majority of the council.
Lowery added the item to the agenda at the beginning of the Aug. 8 City Council meeting, with support from Councilwoman Peggi Smith, and said that he would continue to discuss the topic until it was put on the ballot.
The proposed 12-year terms would start from the time a council member is voted into office; the city can’t apply this rule retroactively, according to City Manager Brian Watkins.
Mayor Wesley Meiss asked Lowery if he had done any research on other cities that have implemented term limits; Lowery said that term limits are applied all over the state in different towns, but Pensacola recently started implementing them.
“There are numerous cities that have come out with term limits,” Lowery said. “To be honest with you, most do eight [years] instead of 12. One major thing I’ve heard is that whenever they have eight and somebody wants to make it 12, it fails… it will fail if you try to increase the time. So, you don’t want to go two or four, and then later want to make it 12 — it doesn’t happen.”
Councilwoman Ashley Lay said that with her experience with Florida League of Cities, she has observed many communities celebrate the years of service that city leaders put into their councils.
“You would just be amazed at people who dedicate their lives to supporting their local communities,” Lay said. “I really came away from those conferences feeling that it was highly celebrated in the cities that did not have term limits.”
Lowery said that he only wants the term limits to be put on the ballot as a referendum to let the citizens decide. Meiss expressed his opinion on the matter.
“This has been brought up at the council meetings and turned down,” Meiss said. “I’ve spoken with the members of the community… and this one is… split right down the middle; people either say no or they say yes, it’s really too close to call.
“I don’t think it would hurt to put it on the ballot, and you’d get an honest opinion from the voters. But then again, if the council desires not to address that with the voters, then that shall be the way it’s going to be.”
Councilwoman Pat Lunsford expressed her concerns about term limits.
“Milton is under self-rule, and if the people are satisfied with what we have now, then I don’t see any use in changing anything,” Lunsford said. “Experience makes a lot of difference in what goes on in the city. I’ve been here since 1996, and if people want me gone, they would vote me out.
“When you’ve been on here any length of time, you’re going to want to stay longer because you get into these things that we’re doing, and you see it progressing and you want to be a part of that. I truly enjoy serving the city of Milton; I love the people here.”
The council voted and the item passed with Meiss, Smith, Lowery, Jeff Snow and Casey Powell in favor, and Lay, Lunsford, Holley and Mary Ellen Johnson opposed. The term limit referendum will be put on the 2018 ballot for citizens of Milton to vote on.