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Grand Rapids voters to decide on term limits for mayor, city commission

Oct 29, 2014

Grand Rapids City Hall
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Voters in Michigan’s second-largest city will decide whether to establish term limits for the mayor and city commission next Tuesday.

The proposed change to the city’s charter would limit commissioners and mayors to eight years in office. Commissioners would be able to serve for eight years if elected mayor.

Opponents of term limits say there’s no need for them because voters can kick people out of office by not re-electing them.

But term-limit supporters, like Bonnie Burke, say it's tough to challenge an incumbent in an odd-year election when voter turnout is extremely low.

“(Politicians) ask people to vote for them when (people) don’t vote. They rally the troops, ‘everybody from the establishment needs to come out’ and it’s a guaranteed win for them,” Burke said.

About two dozen other Michigan cities have term limits, including Livonia, Troy, and Farmington Hills.

“After you’re there for a long time you get used to the status quo – the way things are. You get favoritism. You also – and this is important – you don’t get fresh faces and fresh ideas,” she said.

Opponents say term limits for Grand Rapids mayor and city commission are a terrible idea.

Just look at state lawmakers in Lansing, said Andy Johnston, vice president of governmental affairs at the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. 

“We question what term limits are actually trying to fix. We also fail to see how term limits will help improve the trajectory of Grand Rapids,” Johnston said.

Seventy percent of residents approve the job commissioners are doing, according to the Chamber's recent polling data. Johnston says that’s an indicator that people aren’t in favor of getting rid of those in office now. Under the proposed changes, all but two commissioners and the mayor would be term limited out of office.

“We don’t think that just because you’ve earned experience that means you need to leave office. The city of Grand Rapids has a lot of complex issues that it’s tackling and so we need experienced leadership to address those going forward,” Johnston said.