Council hears proposal to alter term limits policy

Tualatin Commons. (Henry Kaus/Tualatin Life)

Barely five years after Tualatin voters placed term limits on city council members, some now want to see that policy loosened. But only just. 

A proposal to amend the city charter to allow the city’s mayor to serve a second consecutive term – even if it puts them over the 12 years of elected service now allowed in a 20 year period – was presented to city councilors at their June 14 meeting. The new rule would only apply to the mayor, and it also would require the individual to serve two terms on council beforehand. It is intended, supporters say, to allow the person serving in that role enough time to thoroughly learn the requirements and nuances of the job. 

“While we here as a community have experienced the benefits of term limits,” Tualatin resident Susan Noack said, “it is becoming very clear that the burden of term limits has the potential to harm Tualatin by limiting the eligibility of their current mayor, and especially all future mayors, to serve just a single term after eight years as a councilor.” 

Tualatin resident Beth Dittman, who chairs the Tualatin Parks Advisory Committee, said the issue is much larger than just current Mayor Frank Bubenik.  

“This issue is larger than just honoring his individual service and allowing him to potentially run for another term as mayor,” Dittman said. “The change we are asking you make will affect Tualatin’s governance far into the future by allowing a councilor who has been seasoned over eight years of service to be eligible to serve two consecutive terms as mayor.” 

Noack and Dittman asked the council to refer the proposed charter amendment to voters and put an initiative on the ballot for the May 2022 general election. Dittman said the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic makes gathering the thousands of voter signatures needed for a citizen initiative impractical at present. 

Councilors did not debate the matter at the June 14 meeting, but did agree to further discuss it at an upcoming workshop meeting. 

Proposed Charter Amendment Text: 
As submitted, the amendment would change the text of section 12A of the City Charter to read:
“No person shall be eligible to serve on the City Council more than twelve (12) years in any twenty (20) year period, whether serving as Councilor, Mayor, a pro tem member, or a combination thereof, except if a person has served no less than two terms on the City Council, then that person shall be eligible to serve another two consecutive terms as Mayor.”

Proposal would require voter approval

The idea of easing the city’s term limits rule comes less than five years after Tualatin voters approved that policy by a two-to-one margin in favor. Some saw that as a way of loosening the grip of former Mayor Lou Ogden, who served in the position for 24 straight years. He was replaced by Bubenik following the 2018 general election. 

Councilor Valerie Pratt noted that while Ogden may have served for 24 years, this happened in part because of a lack of alternatives. She also said that there were positives to such a long tenure, including the relationships Ogden built around the region. 

“Part of the problem was, even when Lou was in office, he did not often have viable opponents,” Pratt said. “It’s a volunteer position and that’s where my concern is; that we want the best people serving the city. That’s a big part of it for me.” 

Even Mae Heide Goodwin, the Tualatin resident who served as chief petitioner for the 2016 term limits measure, said she supports the current proposal. 

“I see the benefit of separating the limits for the council members as opposed to the mayor because it is good for the mayor to have a little more time to be ready to serve,” Goodwin said. “I think the city could benefit from his or her experience. I still am in favor of term limits, and in fact I would like it to be expanded on the state level as well as the national.” 

For his part, Bubenik said he supports having the community debate the issue. He added that he believes the proposal is in the best interest of the city. 

“I look forward to a community conversation on the importance of ensuring that a person who takes the time and effort to become an experienced leader as a councilor over eight years can continue that service for two consecutive terms as mayor,” he said. “I believe, as do others, this small change to term limits, which must be approved by the voters, is in the best interest of Tualatin residents.”