The town board of Davidson – commissioners Venzon, Dreffer, Jenest, Wessner and Williams – and Mayor John Woods are attempting what can only be described as a power grab. In an election year, they are hijacking the requirement to elect commissioners and the mayor every two years by amending the town charter to institute staggered four-year terms. They are considering doing this without a public referendum.
The consequence could be, for example, that the voters will not be able to remove them – and start with a clean slate – for creating and/or supporting the indebted MI-Connection cable system that is causing the imposition of additional fees and taxes.
The out-front propagandist for this scheme is Town Manager Leamon Brice, who pushed for the cable purchase from Adelphia in 2007. Too bad his name will not be on any ballot.
Specifically, Brice offers these arguments for the proposed changes to the charter:
1. Four-year terms would “accommodate the length of time needed to accomplish the board’s goals and to recognize the difficulty of turning the ship around mid-stream.” How’s that again?
In other words, it would make it easier for the town board to institute new policies and taxes over a period of years, since the electorate could not hold the incumbents collectively responsible in any given election cycle. “Town hall democracy” would be undermined.
2. Per Brice, longer terms in office would create “more stability” and boost the experience and effectiveness of the elected board. In other words, it would guarantee the incumbents greater security in office, discouraging challengers and giving voters less chance to rock the boat every two years.
3. Per Brice, some potential candidates might shy from public service due to the cost and energy required to run every two years. Four-year terms would mitigate that problem. Darn right, they would. Even with two-year terms, note how much continuity there is in board membership and how difficult, without vacancies, it is to recruit strong candidates to run against incumbents.
The five commissioners and the mayor should be ashamed of this brazen attempt to steal power from the electorate. It might as well be called an incumbency protection act or an anti-democratic “putsch,” engineered by the votes of those in power.
If citizens sit back and allow four-year staggered terms to be enacted, they will deny themselves a powerful instrument of self-government.
– William E. Jackson Jr., Davidson