Politicians consider whether local term limits are too long
By Chadwick Dolgos
Every election cycle, the discussion on term limits is reintroduced into political debate as concerns grow over who is governing our country.
While the legal restriction of the number of terms one person may serve in a particular office usually focuses on the federal level, many think term limits for state and local government officials should also be considered.
Similar to the U.S. Congress, term limits for many local government positions in Pittsburgh’s surrounding municipalities do not exist.
The most evident use of term limits in the United States is the office of the presidency. The presidential two-term limit precedent had been established by George Washington, but Franklin D. Roosevelt raised concerns during the 1940s when he won his third and fourth presidential terms. Critics feared that allowing an unrestricted amount of terms could potentially create a monopoly on the presidency.
President Roosevelt passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage just 82 days after being inaugurated to his fourth term. The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution was approved by Congress just two years following his death. The amendment limits the number of terms one person can serve as President to two.
Unlike the presidency, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are not restricted by term limits. Members of the House serve two-year terms, while members of the Senate serve six, but all members of Congress are free to serve as many terms as they choose, as long as they continue to win elections.
Locally, Neville Island’s board of commissioners is governed by Pennsylvania’s first-class township code, which establishes four-year terms for commissioners, but does not set term limits. Chairman Richard Rutter has served on the board for 14 years while Vice-Chairman Bill Leon has served for 18. The board is also composed of two newly elected members, David Kerr and Tracy Phillips.
Crafton Borough Council members are also not subject to term limits, but no member of the current council has served longer than two terms. The longest-serving member on the council is Councilman Fred Amendola, who has served in his position for five years, followed by President Phillip Lavasseur and Coletta Perry, who have served on the council for three.
The council includes three newly elected members, Edward Alo, Mike Crown, and Anthony Saba, who have only served in their official capacity for eight months.
Coraopolis’s council is composed of eight members who are also not subject to term limits. Council terms are also set to expire after four years. Councilman Daniel LaRocco has served on the council for 25 years, while Council President Robb Cardimen has served for nine. The council is also composed of relatively new members, Lucinda Wade (nine months), George Mihalyi (nine months), and Chad Kraynyk (18 months).
Coraopolis councilwoman Wade is in favor of term limits at the local level. “New council members can potentially bring new ideas and fresh perspectives that would hopefully promote community growth and decrease stagnation that sometimes occurs when you always have the same people year after year.”
She recognizes, however, there is a downside to setting term limits and constantly introducing new faces to a town’s board or council. “The downside, of course, is the learning curve that newly elected officials may face.”
Commissioners on Stowe Township’s board are free to serve as many terms as they please as well, provided they continue to win elections. The longest-serving member is Commissioner Cheryl McDermott, who has served on the board for 12 years, since 2008.
The board of commissioners is also composed of two newer members, Dave Rugh and Chester Glowacki. Rugh previously served on the McKees Rocks council for 18 years.
Commissioner McDermott supports the implementation of term limits and believes these limits should exceed no longer than three terms.
“I feel after so many years people get stale, they stop doing for the constituents thinking they got their automatic votes,” she said.
“If you cannot accomplish what you set out to accomplish, then it’s time to move on and let another person with good ideas and goals strive to get voted in.”
When McDermott resigns from the board, she hopes that someone who loves the community as much as she does fills her shoes.
“I would like that person to have the communication abilities that I have with constituents and the business community, and to stay on a level that everyone else is on.”
Tristan Yoder, seven-year resident of McKees Rocks who plans to run in 2022 for the state house of representative’s 27th district agrees that term limits should be implemented at all levels of government. He recently signed a pledge to cosponsor, vote, and defend any legislation that would enact term limits on Congress if elected.
“I decided to sign the pledge for term limits because I feel 30 plus years is way too long,” he said. “When in a position to serve your constituents, you tend to forget who put you there after 30 plus years.”
McKees Rocks Mayor Jack Muhr has served in his official position for the past 19 years. Prior to being elected, Mayor Muhr served on the Sto-Rox school board and as borough controller.
“I have been a resident for seven years in McKees Rocks, and the borough doesn’t change,” Yoder said, further supporting his argument in favor of term limits. “It stays the same, and it needs a lot of work!”
Yoder also recognizes there are downsides to term limits, but says he believes the benefits outweigh the costs. “An elected official should always be about their constituents,” he concluded.
While some elected officials around the area support the implementation of term limits at the local level, there are currently no term limits placed on government positions in the areas surrounding Pittsburgh. Instead, voters are tasked with going to the polls and ousting long-standing members and replacing them with fresh, new outlooks.