COMPTON — A group of young activists hit a political brick wall Tuesday when they asked a veteran mayor and City Council to sponsor a plan that would prevent the officials from serving more than two consecutive terms.
Not surprisingly, the mayor and four council members--each with nearly a decade of uninterrupted tenure--said no.
But debate over the proposal was marked by some pointed exchanges that prompted one councilman to lecture the activists on the difficulties of being a Compton official while another suggested that they were merely playing to an audience of voters watching over cable television.
"I do not feel that you can intimidate the City Council before the citizens," said Councilman Robert L. Adams. "The citizens out there that you're speaking to, they love this City Council."
Seth Francois and Ronald Green, officers of the 150-member Young Democrats/Republicans of Compton, began by asking the council to place a charter amendment proposal limiting the terms on next April's municipal election ballot. The council is empowered to call for charter referendums if at least three members agree.
Limit of 2 Straight 4-Year Terms
If passed, the measure would prohibit the mayor and council members from serving more than two four-year terms in a row. Current officeholders--despite having already exceeded the standard--would be allowed to run for reelection one more time before falling under the restriction.
Green, a student at a ITT Technical Institute, said that the 18-month-old political group had recently surveyed 100 registered Compton voters and found that all but two favored limiting mayoral and council terms. Of the 98% in favor, he said 56% preferred a two-term limit and 36% favored a one-term limit.
Francois, a Cal State Dominguez Hills political science student who unsuccessfully challenged Adams in the 1985 election, noted that similar measures have recently come under discussion in other area cities, including Cerritos.
Green said some voters apparently believe that certain longtime members of the council--"and I won't mention any names"--have lately fallen "victim to complacency." By putting the term limitation amendment on the ballot, he contended, the council would only be yielding to the wishes of voters as reflected in the group's survey.
"It would definitely help you in the eyes of the public to know that you are not a dictatorship council," said Francois.
"We are not a dictatorial council," Councilman Floyd A. James quickly replied. James, who said he was proud of being the youngest council member at age 46, explained that he once thought terms should be restricted, but now believes otherwise. "The only reason why it is my personal belief that we have progressed to the position we have in this city is because we've had continuity on the City Council."
James said that limiting mayoral and council terms would rob the city of needed experience and expertise.
"It takes more than four years, more than eight years sometimes to prepare a person so they can really deal with the situation of running a city," James said. In his nine years as a city official, he continued, "believe me, I have learned an awful lot. It's not easy to come on this City Council and think that you're going to direct this city. And a lot of times we've had problems of a magnitude that you cannot imagine, and it takes a lot of wisdom. It takes a lot of strength, believe me, and it takes a lot of guts."
Years to Get Feet Wet
Mayor Walter R. Tucker agreed, saying: "A lot of times you do get people (in city posts) that might be popular but they're greenhorns, and you can really do a disservice to this city by not having somebody on there that knows what's going on. It takes . . . maybe more than four years to really know what's going on."
Tucker said he regarded the group's survey as more of a "straw poll" than a clear sign of voter opinion. "You're twisting the truth," the mayor said, and accused Francois and Green of trying to "badger" the council into action.
"I'm not against it," said Tucker, "if that's what the people want. . . . But I don't think you have a prayer right now."
James said he would be more attentive to the issue if he thought it was "the will of the people and not the will of a special-interest group" of activists who might seek office themselves.
But Francois accused the council members of being their own special-interest group. And he reminded them that, without any sign of public support, they had placed an amendment on the ballot last fall to make the mayor's job full time and swell Tucker's pay from $14,400 to at least $73,000. That measure, placed on the ballot by a 3-2 council vote, was eventually defeated at the polls.
"The community has stated that they would want this issue on the ballot," Francois said.
Aiming for Reduced Costs