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Not measuring up

September 09, 2006

TERM LIMITS STINK. THEY DISEMPOWER voters by limiting choice. They produce elected officials who care more about jumping to their next office than earning the right to keep the job they have. They make sure that only lobbyists, labor unions and professional bureaucrats, rather than the peoples' elected

representatives, collect the experience, connections and institutional knowledge of how the process works and how to get things done.

In the Los Angeles City Council, the current two-term limit discourages long-term budget planning, prevents members from seeing through large-scale projects from start to finish and, most important, assures that elected officials who might otherwise be held accountable for bad decisions are long gone by the time their actions come home to roost. Limits should at the very least be relaxed to three terms, and it would be hard to imagine a ballot measure along those lines that we would not support.

Or rather, it was hard to imagine before this summer. We clearly underestimated the duplicity of the City Council, which came up with a term-limits extension laden with so many problems that even we were left wondering how we could support it. A judge appeared to have made the question moot Thursday by ordering the proposal, Measure R, off the Nov. 7 ballot. An appeals court revived it Friday. So here we are.

There are substantive legal and practical problems with Measure R. For example, it extends term limits for City Council members but not for the mayor, controller or city attorney. That undermines the voters' decision in adopting a new charter to strengthen the mayor at the City Council's expense.

It also sugarcoats term-limits extension by adding unrelated ethics reform, a pairing that led a judge to strike the whole thing on grounds that it violated the state Constitution's prohibition on two-pronged ballot initiatives. And even the "ethics" portion makes changes on lobbyist disclosure requirements that are murky at best -- and in any case sidestep entirely the city's Ethics Commission, which exists to study and refine rules such as this, yet wasn't even consulted. Why was the City Council in such a rush?

Also shut out of the hasty process were neighborhood councils, which under the charter must get early notice of city actions, and by extension the entire electorate, which had insufficient notice to read, study or comment on the final version.

Measure R is for the moment back on the ballot, but it is tainted. The City Council, which could have won public support for the worthy principle of extending term limits, has instead reminded us why they were popular in the first place. And members may have poisoned the chance for term-limits reform for the foreseeable future.

Which is a shame. Because term limits still stink.

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