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Measure Could Extend Terms

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to place a measure on the March ballot seeking to allow the city’s elected officials--including themselves--to serve a total of three terms in office.

It would extend the city’s two-term limit, which applies to council members as well as the mayor, city attorney and city controller.

The measure was approved on a 10-2 vote, and would repeal a 1993 law that limits the terms of all elected city officials. Councilman Nate Holden suggested asking voters to abolish term limits, or at least give officials four terms, but his colleagues soundly rejected that request.

“I don’t think [voters] want to throw it all out,” said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who is in her second term. “They want to modify it; they want to make it seem reasonable. Anything we do that goes too far afield will condemn it all.”

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At the council’s request, the city attorney will draw up the final language of the motion, which will be up for a final vote today.

The action comes as term limits are increasingly becoming a matter of public debate. In New York, some activists briefly considered repealing that city’s term-limits law in the outpouring of public support after Sept. 11 for Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is being forced from office by the rules.

In California, lawmakers recently gathered enough signatures to ask voters to revise the state term-limits law, a measure that will appear on the March ballot. And Los Angeles County officials are debating a proposal that would limit county officials--who face no restrictions--to three four-year terms.

“What we are doing is checking back with the voters,” said recently elected Councilman Eric Garcetti. “We have a fluid democracy.”

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Many of the council members said Tuesday that eight years in office simply is not enough time to learn the complexities of City Hall. At the same time, however, many of them are recent beneficiaries of the term-limits law. In this year’s municipal election, five newcomers filled seats that were vacated by longtime incumbents.

“The ability to do the job depends upon the experience that you get,” said veteran Councilman Hal Bernson, who is serving his final term. “The losers in this thing are not the politicians. The public loses because they’re not getting the proficiency you would have with additional service.”

But Councilwoman Janice Hahn said she understood why voters imposed limitations.

“It’s the same reason we have two sections of the city that want to leave,” she said, referring to secession efforts in San Pedro and the San Fernando Valley. “People have lost faith in their government. They don’t feel like politicians are accountable or responsive.”

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Hahn said she did not see a groundswell of public support for repealing or extending the limits.

“It would be one thing if we had some citizens panel for better government and they came to us with the suggestion that they wanted to extend term limits,” Hahn said. “But this came from politicians.”

Ultimately, however, she agreed to place the matter before the voters.

She told her colleagues: “If we actually believe we should check back in with the voters . . . the most prudent way is to limit it to letting the voters decide whether or not our terms should be extended to three terms.”

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Councilman Jack Weiss also agreed to go along with the ballot measure.

“The people of this city spoke very loudly and clearly on the subject before,” said Weiss, referring to the strong support for the voter initiative 11 years ago to impose term limits. “I’m in favor of a modest extension.”

Joining Holden in opposing the motion was Councilwoman Jan Perry.


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