Coming to terms
Public hearing on term limits packs historic courthouse
Wednesday, October 09, 2013 6:08 AM
When Houston County commissioners convened a public hearing on the possibility of imposing term limits on the county's Planning Commission, they got an earful from residents.
Gary Kruckow of Caledonia addresses county commissioners during a public hearing on term limits for Planning Commission members held Sept. 30. The event drew a standing-room only crowd to the commissioners’ room.
Sixty-four persons checked in at the door of the commissioners' room, basically filling the chamber where judges once held court. Some spoke in favor of keeping the current system, which allows the county board to reappoint members to the planning commission for an indefinite period of time. A few suggested some guidelines and left the question open. A clear majority, however, spoke in favor of putting a limit on the number of years that members may sit on the committee.
Fully half (32 persons) addressed the board.
Julia Massman of Caledonia said, "I don't agree with the idea that you need to keep people in there forever because they know what they're doing." She suggested that potential candidates should study pertinent information before taking office. "You don't sign up for public service to the people, I would hope, unless you feel confident that you can serve them." Massman added that two four-year terms would be enough, with half of the members appointed during one two-year period and half in the next.
Robert Ideker of rural Hokah said, "I definitely think that people getting a job and thinking they're married to it, and that they know it all, is wrong. Lets give other people a chance as well." He suggested limiting service to one or two three-year terms.
John Beckman of Houston Township said, "Zoning is a relatively hot topic - 'rules for other people but not for myself' crops up from time to time. There is a fair amount of turnover on the county board, so people on the Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment have been reappointed by various commissioners. If they haven't been doing their job, I doubt they would keep being reappointed. It's not a good-old-boys thing as I see it." Beckman said that members do their homework, make site visits when needed, and interpret the rules. "Obviously, they're not going to please everybody," he added.
If the county board imposes term limits, they should also set up some sort of process to make sure the county obtains qualified applicants, Beckman concluded.
Drue Fergison of Money Creek Township said, "I believe that you will find that there truly are competent people willing to serve. Is it possible that some of these have felt intimidated about bringing their names forward in the current situation?" She disagreed with those who characterize the term limit debate as just another "special interest" issue. To the suggestion that "If it isn't broken, it doesn't need fixing," Fergison said, "This question may not be all that relevant if you consider what is fair and right and good, and allows democracy to thrive. Just as there are reasons why elected officials have term limits, these same reasons apply for bodies like planning commissions."
John Dewey of Yucatan Township said, "If you've got people who are doing a good job, do you really want to say, 'You can't be here any more because your term is up' versus putting somebody else on that isn't doing a good job and now you can't say, 'you've got to go'?"
Richard Markos, president of the Township Officer's Association, said his group liked the idea of limiting membership to three terms of three years each. Another thing that appeals to township officers is finding "appropriate training" for PC members, rather than expecting them to learn the job totally on their own, he added.
Wayne Feldmeier of Yucatan Township said he served as a township commissioner for 16 years. "I think commissioners should decide if they're going to keep somebody on or not," he said. "By having term limits, you could get the worst possible people on there, and this is a thing that once you make one decision, it's going to affect everybody down the road."
Robert Ellenz of Caledonia said, "I support term limits. I've seen and been in front of the commissioners before. It seems like we should all sit and listen, on both sides. We just need to find the right people. It's not hard."
John Meyer of Spring Grove agreed. "I am for term limits," he said. "I think it's healthy for the community, like everyone else that is in favor of term limits. There's a lot of talent out there; why don't we use it? You get a little more of a broader horizon on your thinking, and I think that's very healthy in a community, especially one that's as diverse as ours is."
Other persons also mentioned diversity, noting for one thing that all seven current members are men.
Pete Peterson of Sheldon Township told the board, "You have a very difficult job ahead of you. I'm very impressed with the amount of people who showed up tonight, and the number who have given their input."
"I've met before that board. They do a great job, and I must commend them. They have a hard job to do. I see the difficulties that they have, but give the opportunity to other people, too. Let other people have the opportunity to serve you, also, and to serve this county because they want to."
"Don't look at this from the negative. Don't say that these people that serve us now are doing a poor job. I come from another standpoint, and the people that I've talked to are also saying... it's not that they are doing a poor job. We're just saying, give other people the opportunity. Choose people who can provide you with their knowledge. That would benefit the county and help the people."