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Dispute Erupts Over Mailer

Times Staff Writer

Supporters of a ballot measure to ease term limits for the Los Angeles City Council are sending campaign mail to voters that makes it appear that elected officials could get less time in office rather than more.

“Prop R will LIMIT councilmembers to three terms in office (12 years total), so that no one can serve for life,” states the campaign flier from the Committee to Reform L.A.

In fact, council members are already limited to two four-year terms. The ballot measure, if approved by a majority of voters Nov. 7, would allow council members to serve a third.

Elected officials in Los Angeles have not been permitted to serve an unlimited number of terms since voters imposed term limits in 1993.

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“I think it’s blatantly misleading to say that council members can’t serve for life. They can’t; they can serve eight years,” said Jeff Jacobberger, a member of the Mid-City West Neighborhood Council and treasurer of Not Prop R, a committee fighting the ballot measure.

“I don’t know why they are doing this, but I have to assume they think that people won’t agree with them if they have an honest discussion about the policy of term limits,” Jacobberger added.

Even some members of the City Council who were shown the mailer Friday said it wasn’t wholly accurate.

“I do think it’s a little misleading,” said Councilman Tom LaBonge, who was among those who voted to place the measure on the ballot. “I also think it’s important policy to ease term limits to serve the public better -- but we have to be straight up” with voters.

Councilman Herb Wesson, however, saw the mailer as a mere campaign tactic.

“Technically, it is accurate; whoever the consultants are have decided this is the approach that will win,” said Wesson, a former speaker of the state Assembly. “I’m not running the campaign.”

The ballot measure was written by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles. John Shallman, a longtime political consultant in the region, is running the campaign for the groups and produced the flier.

“It’s 100% accurate,” Shallman said. “Anything you write can be written in many different ways.”

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Shallman also noted that opponents of the measure were told by a judge to strike some erroneous statements from their ballot arguments -- specifically, that it would cost taxpayers money and that it was written by lobbyists “for lobbyists.”

The merits of term limits have been hotly debated for years in political circles.

Proponents say they ensure that fresh faces get a chance to run government, but opponents argue they weaken government by stocking it with chronically inexperienced elected officials who focus too much on seeking their next job instead of doing their current one.

The flier from the campaign committee, however, emphasizes restrictions that the ballot measure would impose on lobbyists.

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Those new rules were tacked on by supporters after polling showed they would give the term-limit provision a better chance of passing.

A Superior Court judge ruled in September that the ballot measure violated the state Constitution because it asked voters to cast a single vote on two unrelated items. However, an appeals court stayed that decision and will decide the legality of the ballot measure Nov. 28 -- if the measure is approved by voters.

The flier also includes statements from former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, League of Women Voters of Los Angeles President Liza White and Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben.

None of their statements makes it clear that council members could actually serve more time in office if the measure passed.

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Riordan wrote that the measure ensures “that City Council members cannot serve for life.”

White wrote that “Prop R is an effective way to make city government more honest and accountable to voters.”

steve.hymon@latimes.com


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