Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Election trouble brewing in Denton?

This is interesting:
A district judge expressed doubt Monday over Denton Mayor Perry McNeill’s and Mayor Pro Tem Pete Kamp’s eligibility to run in the May 10 election.

Visiting Judge David Evans said he had a “hard time” accepting Denton city attorneys’ argument that City Council members could bypass term limits by running for different seats, as McNeill and Kamp are attempting.
The City of Denton was scheduled to hold municipal elections on May 10. Retired UNT engineering professor Perry McNeill, who became mayor two years ago, is up for re-election, and three council positions - one district and two at-large - are up for grabs as well. However, the entire election could be thrown into disarray if a group of local plantiffs - including two political challengers who probably have little chance of being elected otherwise - get their way.

The suit claims that the city charter prevents McNeill, (former councilmember Mark) Burroughs and at-large District 5 candidate Kamp from running because each already was elected to at least three council terms. The five plaintiffs include mayoral challenger Justin Bell and Kamp’s rival for District 5, Mike Sutton.

The charter prevents members from being elected to more than three consecutive two-year terms. But city attorneys say members can serve more than six years by running for a different council seat, including mayor, or sitting out at least one term and running again for the same seat.

McNeill, Burroughs and Kamp say they are eligible based on that interpretation of the charter, which city attorneys have supported for years.

This is how I always understood how Denton's term limits worked: candidates could not run for the same office more than three consecutive times, but could stand for re-election if they sat out for one term or ran for a different office. This is what all three of the named candidates have done: Mark Burroughs sat out for a few years after completing his three alloted terms in 2004, Perry McNeill ran for mayor in 2006 after serving as a councilmember for two-and-a-half terms, and Pete Kamp is moving from a district council seat to an at-large council seat.

I used to be a supporter of term limits, but after seeing how they've worked in Houston, where they were implemented seventeen years ago, I no longer think they are a good idea. This legal fight over their implementation in Denton, which is costing taxpayer dollars to resolve and which could throw a city's democratic process into turmoil, obviously doesn't cause me to view term limits any more favorably.

Evans has set a follow-up hearing for Monday morning. If he rules for the plantiffs, the City of Denton will obviously appeal, but the damage to the May 10th election may already be done. Ballots have already been printed, absentee voting begins April 28th, and, if the ruling stands, at least one at-large council seat will end up as an uncontested election.

Stay tuned.

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