Bowie voters might not just face a question of who they want in office this November, but also for how long they want to keep them.
At Monday’s meeting, the Bowie City Council directed city staff to draft a ballot question for the Nov. 5 elections proposing increasing the term in office for the City Council from two to four years. The vote was unanimous with Councilman Todd Turner (At Large) absent for the vote.
Council members said the current system, where voters go to the polls every year either to vote in general, state or federal elections or in odd numbered years for city positions, is a burden to residents.
“It would be a better and fairer system to constituents,” said Councilman Dennis Brady (At Large).
To run for City Council and to be mayor of Bowie one must be at least 18 years old or older and have been a resident of the city for at least a year or two years to run for mayor, according to existing rules. Council members are paid $14,263 annually while the mayor receives $22,263 a year, said city spokeswoman Una Cooper.
A 1984 referendum that offered residents the option to maintain the two year term system or change it to three or four year terms failed to generate support for lengthening terms, Cooper said. The issue was resurrected with a 2000 referendum where voters in a 52.6 percent to 47.4 percent margin opted not to support increasing term lengths to four years, Cooper said.
The referendums are nonbinding and the City Council has the power to pass an ordinance changing term limits should the council choose to, Cooper said.
A change to the term limits could potentially affect the terms of officials elected in November, but would most likely effect the next election cycle, Cooper said.
Fewer opportunities to approve or reject a candidate didn’t seem to better serve voters, said Dale Grant, a former City Councilman from 1994 to 1996.
“I’m not necessarily in favor of it,” said Grant, who is also chairman of the city’s outreach committee and chairman of the Heather Hills Civic Association. “Our elected officials should be accountable to the voters fairly often. I don’t see a major reason to change it.”
Term lengths for elected officials in Prince George’s County vary widely. Upper Marlboro commissioners are also elected to two-year terms while in Hyattsville and Bladensburg, council members serve four-year terms.
With the current two-year term system, council members don’t have enough time to learn their job before their running for office again, said Mayor G. Frederick Robinson.
“There’s a growth period in this business,” Robinson said. “Give them enough time to get comfortable in their position before they have to turn around and start running for election.”
The potential change didn’t bother Robert Richardson, president of the Amber Meadows II homeowner association in Bowie.
“The way the bureaucracy work in these places, I just don’t know how you get things done in two years,” he said. “I don’t see where two years is long enough to make a call one way or another if your council people are effective or not.”