Column: Term limits a useful tool but not needed in DuluthI’m a fan of term limits for elected officials. But there’s absolutely no evidence they’re needed in Duluth.
By: Virgil Swing, For the Budgeteer News
I’m a fan of term limits for elected officials. But there’s absolutely no evidence they’re needed in Duluth.
So using the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” maxim, which contains a lot of truth even if it is a cliché, a panel was wise to reject a former Duluth police chief’s push for such limits.
The city Charter Commission properly turned down by an 11-1 vote such an effort, which might be unconstitutional anyway.
If city councilors (and Duluth School Board members) got salaries like the generous ones St. Louis County commissioners have, you might need an unusually long pry bar to remove them from office. But they don’t, and you don’t.
So I agree with others that efforts of former chief Eli Miletich to impose such limits on the mayor and councilors is likely due to anger at Duluth Mayor Don Ness, not to improving politics.
Evidence that city councilors and school board members tend to not make them lifetime careers came when Councilor Jim Stauber announced he won’t seek a fourth term this fall. He’s the only relatively long-term councilor.
A few years ago I thought we had the makings of a political dynasty when three hard-charging young men won election to the council with the politically potent backing of the DFL Party and public employee unions.
I figured we might see these guys on the council for a decade or more, voting in lockstep to spend more tax dollars on lots of public
But Jeff Anderson and Tony Cuneo, elected in 2007, didn’t even seek a second term while Dan Hartman, elected in 2009, recently announced he won’t either. And their votes over their single terms showed they didn’t march to a single drummer and instead approached most issues as individuals, not as automatons controlled by DFLers and unions.
Now, if I had on a ballot before me a referendum on imposing term limits on state legislators and members of Congress, I’d vote yes in a New York minute. Northeastern Minnesota has had way more than its share of elected officials at those two levels who serve 20, 30 or even 40 years, sometimes leaving only when the Grim Reaper called.
Speaking of elective office, St. Louis County had a mini-flap recently as some commissioners said a soil and water conservation district employee was too tough on north county landowners. But efforts to rein him in were hampered by the fact he works for the elected officials who run the district.
I won’t try to decide who’s right in this flap, but the fact soil and water functionaries appear on the ballot before voters who mostly know nothing about their qualifications (or their roles) is a big mistake. Voters should never be asked to vote for (or against) people whose competence they can’t reasonably judge.
Though they’re totally unrelated to the local issues mentioned above, I came across three examples of public and private situations that make you wonder where we’re headed. Briefly, here they are:
Members of Congress, who cost us billions in upkeep and trillions in budget expenditures, passed 23 laws through June 2013. Yep, that’s right, fewer than one a week. Many cynics see this as a good thing, but I think it just shows that the 12 percent support they have among Americans is way more than they deserve. But it won’t change until voters stop sending the same clowns back.
After years in which local TV stations had little appeal among investors (though more than newspapers), some stations are a hot commodity. The reason: They’re in the states that aren’t reliably Democrat or Republican. Such stations take in millions in election- or issue-advocacy advertising dollars. So those annoying and simplistic ads have become an economic gold mine.
One Wall Street firm is unhappy because the New York state attorney general might end a practice by which certain investors get an early look at a popular economic survey. That doesn’t sound so bad, but the New York Times said the favored ones get the information “a full two seconds” before others. Think what that says about the thoughtful way money is invested these days.
Budgeteer opinion columnist Virgil Swing has been writing about Duluth for many years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.