Monday, December 05, 2005

Term Limits at the City Council

In yesterday's NY Times Winnie Hu writes about the growing support for extending term limits for city council members. This movement, however, has generated its share of critics. In particular, the Citizens Union's Dick Dadey took offense stating, "It is not only undemocratic, but amazingly brazen for the Council to think that it can extend term limits without going back to the voters."

We do have some sympathy for the point-of-view that if something is set in place by referendum than it should be re-submitted to the voters if elected officials feel that the referendum is not in the public interest. That being said, it is also useful to point out that referenda are not foolproof ways to enact good public policy. The issue of term limits for city council members is a case in point.

NYC government has a strong mayoral structure that puts the legislature at a decided disadvantage. This is particularly true on budget and land use issues. The current term limits law creates volatility at the Council that aggravates the power imbalance. Extending the limits for councilmembers to three terms, therefore, would definitely be in the public interest.