Town prepares for term limit vote
Brookhaven residents will vote on whether or not to add term limits to elected officials, as well as to extend the length of terms from two to four years.

File photo

Town prepares for term limit vote

Story By: GLENN ROHRBACKER
10/4/2018


 

The Town of Brookhaven will place a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot asking voters to approve the town board’s plan to add term limits to elected officials, while also extending several offices’ terms from two to four years. 

“I always think people should have a voice in the way that their government functions,” Brookhaven supervisor Ed Romaine told the Advance in July after the announcement was made.

A 1993 referendum established term limits for the supervisor and council members. That law was nullified in 2002, when voters chose to switch the Town of Brookhaven to a ward-district system. In the state of New York, all ward-district governments are required to have council members serve two-year terms. 

According to state law, the town has legal authority to override that state statute, providing an opportunity to give officials four-year terms. Every other town in Suffolk County operates this way. 

A public hearing was held on Aug. 2, where residents voiced their opinions on the vote, with opinions ranging from totally for, to totally against. 

Major arguments for the proposal:

More time to govern

Proponents of the plan say that four-year terms allow more projects to get done, and allow for officials to spend more time working, rather than campaigning. 

John Ashline, a resident of Patchogue, agreed and said that he has always thought two-year terms were too short. “The officials are either preparing for elections, campaigning or raising money to run for office,” he said. “Make the terms longer so they have time to do the duties they are elected for. Limit the time they can be in office so they don’t become career politicians.”

Romaine believes that the term limits will help cut back on campaigning and campaign financing for elected officials who have to run every two years. He said it also allows for new members to work on longer-term projects without having to pivot to campaigning right away. 

Councilman Dan Panico (District 6) said longer terms allow for members to set and achieve goals more efficiently. “I think a four-year term would be very beneficial to the stability of this town,” he added. 

Paul Pontieri, mayor of the Village of Patchogue, was the first to speak on the issue during the general public comment period of the Aug. 2 meeting. He said that a major testament to the transformation of Patchogue was the ability to oversee policy change and project development over a four-year term.

“There are no projects that can be done in 18 months,” Pontieri said. “There are no major policies that can be made in 18 months. There are no major legislative changes such as zoning, building codes — the list goes on — that can be made in 18 months.”

Limits on length in office

The referendum would put three-term limits on elected officials, so the maximum an official could serve would be 12 years. Term limits have been an argument throughout the country for many years. The president is the only federal official with a limit of terms (two). New York’s governor also does not have any term limits, which has allowed Gov. Andrew Cuomo to run for his third consecutive term this year. State elected officials do not have term limits, but a bipartisan group has been beginning to float the idea and trying to gain support for limits. 

Major arguments against the proposal: 

Four years is too long 

Some residents have spoken out on the fact that two years is enough time for local government elected officials. 

Anthony Portesy, of Centereach, a former candidate for Brookhaven highway superintendent, said that while he agreed with the issues that come with two-year terms, it should not be extended. 

“Two years is good enough for the [New York] State Assembly, it’s good enough for the United States Congress, it’s good enough for Brookhaven,” he told the board at the Aug. 2 public hearing.

Another resident, Ashley Hunt-Martorano of Medford, agreed, saying that two-year terms allow voters to have a voice more often.

Some members could serve for 20 years

The referendum would put term limits on officials starting in 2020, which would allow all members who have already served to potentially serve another 12 years on top of what they already have. This would allow council members like Jane Bonner and Dan Panico to serve for approximately 20 years if they were to continue running.

Romaine said that it would be difficult and maybe even impossible to count served terms already. Panico also said that it’s a matter of operational law that the statute couldn’t be retroactive.

“You can’t pass a law that goes back and mandates,” Romaine said. 

Proposal calls for one answer to two questions

Another criticism of the plan is that the ballot referendum would combine both aspects of the proposal — term limits and extension of terms — into one question. Some residents have expressed concern that they may be in favor of one aspect but not the other. It is unclear at this point whether that would help or hurt the ballot initiative. 

Not enough time for debate

Some residents have argued that the July-to-November timeline is too short, and more time should be allocated for debate on the issue. Board members pushed back, saying that there has been time already since the resolution was announced, and voters will have three months — now down to one — until Election Day to craft their opinions.