published Monday, February 7th, 2011

Chattanooga City Council weighs term limits

by Cliff Hightower
  • photo
    Chattanooga City Council member Jack Benson, Sr., speaks out during a 2010 council meeting to vote on a 37 cents per $100 of assessed value tax increase.
    Staff file photo

Chattanooga Councilwoman Deborah Scott says she supports council term limits and thinks voters should be able to decide if they are a good idea.

"I think it's a good idea to have new ideas," Scott said last week.

She favors a limit of two terms, or eight years.

Her colleagues are split on the idea, which would require a vote by city residents to change the City Charter.

Council Chairman Manny Rico said the council "already has term limits."

"It's called an election," he said.

The council's Legal and Legislative Committee will discuss the possibility of term limits Tuesday.

Scott said the idea sparked in her mind as she talked with bright, ambitious people across Chattanooga who should be brought into government.

"It's possible you can get into a rut doing things you have always done," she said.

But Rico and Councilman Jack Benson countered that there's value in having longtime members with experience and institutional memory.

"It's not something you learn overnight," Rico said.

Benson said that, because the mayor is limited to two terms, it could be "very dangerous" to have people with limited knowledge on the council.

He said the most recent election, when six of the nine council members were newcomers, illustrated the pitfalls. The council spent time going over issues that previous councils already had vetted, he said.


The Chattanooga City Council's Legal and Legislative Committee will talk about the possibility of council term limits at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

"There was a lot of wasted time getting up to speed," he said.

City officials said a charter amendment could be placed on the ballot for the next election, which is two years away.

Councilwoman Pam Ladd said term limits might increase participation in government and bring in people with new skills.

And longtime employees in city departments have institutional memory to guide council members on what has gone on in the past, Ladd said.

"That's why you have good staff," she said.

Contact Cliff Hightower at or 423-757-6480. Follow him on Twitter at

Should city council terms be limited?
  • yes 93%
  • no 7%

422 total votes.

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jpo3136 said...

Be careful. When defining term limits, we would also be re-defining the stability of a term. Notice, voters just tried to impeach the Mayor with a recall.

Redefining terms through a term-limit argument could create an opportunity to change recall or impeachment procedures in a way that would insulate the Mayor or other officials from recall efforts like the one we just had.

The gain for proposing term limits is in making it yet more difficult to impeach or recall unfavorable people.

Given recent poor performance of so many in the Mayor's administration, it's not really a good idea.

Also, revising impeachment procedures under the guise of "establishing term limits" would be another supporting move for Metro. If another component of Metro government preparation is revealed, then people will get upset. If it's sprung on us by surprise, then there are sure to be recall efforts.

Recent budget changes, like how assets are defined; taking away Police patrol cars; outsourcing animal control and other government services and properties; backdoor appointment deals in the County; and, most recently, attempting to force court consolidation: all are measures which promote the forming of Metro government.

These people don't change anything unless they stand to gain something. What they need to gain is more job protection, for when they move to Metro.

Reject Metro. Watch out for this term limit ploy.

February 7, 2011 at 12:48 a.m.
cannonball said...

All politicians should have term limits unless they agree to serve without salary and pay their own expenses. That ain't gonna happen.

February 7, 2011 at 6:04 a.m.
jpo3136 said...

If we create a situation where they serve without salary, then it will encourage the rich to exploit their personal wealth to take over public service to write laws for themselves.

Next thing you know, they'll re-route traffic in the city to finance their Senate campaign, or something like that.

February 7, 2011 at 8:34 a.m.
mella_yella said...

Council Chairman Manny Rico said the council "already has term limits."

"It's called an election," he said.

It's not often I agree with Rico, but he hit the nail on the head with this one.

February 7, 2011 at 9:05 a.m.
Allison12 said...

I am for term limits, Robinson, Rico, Benson are not good steward of public money. It is wrong every day of the week, to force tax dollars from working class families to pay for art pursuits. These 3 have been on an art spending spree each year, $250,000 Allied Arts, 45,000 Public Art Director, 179,000 Crutchfield and assistant art waste, pottery studio,...this is BS spending of hard earned property tax dollars.and it goes on and on. These 3 gotta go.

February 7, 2011 at 8:21 p.m.
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