Term Limit Extensions – by politicians for politicians

The politicians are so desperate to stay in office on Pierce County that they have stacked the deck in hopes of fooling the voters into giving them four more years in office.

August 15, 2017

Nick Power, Attorney
(360) 298-0464

Pierce County Citizens File Challenge to “Misleading and Deceptive” Ballot Title

Proposed Charter Amendment No. 47 by the Councilmembers

Tacoma, WA – On August 15, 2017, Pierce County voters Donna Walters, Judt Shrode, and Sherry Bockwinkel filed a ballot title challenge to the ballot title for Pierce County’s proposed Charter Amendment 47, requesting the ballot title reflect the fact that the terms in office are being extended and applies retroactively. The Honorable Pierce County Judge Gretchen Leanderson has been assigned to hear the case. Case No. 17-2-10356-5 is scheduled to be heard on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 at 9:00 AM.

The proposed charter amendment, Resolution 2017-38 was passed by the Pierce County Council on July 25, seeks to increase the present term limit of two consecutive 4-year terms to three consecutive 4-year terms. Plus, this proposal applies retroactively, counting service on the Council prior to January 1, 2019 as part of the three 4-year consecutive terms.

The petitioners, Walters, Bockwinkel and Shrode, have a number of concerns about the County’s process and the proposed measure, beginning with the timing. During the peak vacation time, the Council passed their ordinance literally at the last minute with just moments to spare, making it extremely difficult to even have any opposition published in the Voters’ Guide. Bockwinkel, who participated in the drafting of the statement said, “The voters will be blindsided by this proposed charter change.” No one testified on July 25th when the Councilmembers approved extending their own terms retroactively and only three members of the public showed up the following week when the Council appointed volunteers for the Voters Pamphlet writing committees. “Pierce County has set a new low for transparency with this maneuver to feather their nests by extending their own time in office,” Bockwinkel adds.

Then, there is the language of the Official Ballot Title, which fails to note that the measure is an increase to the present limits and does not, in the petitioners’ view, clearly state the retroactive effects of the measure. “The six Councilmembers that voted for this charter change are showing a reckless disregard for the voters and their 2009 vote on this very same issue,” states Donna Walters, plaintiff.

Third, the petitioners assert that the title fails the Subject in Title rule of the State Constitution, which requires that all ballot measures be fairly reflected in their title, and that it violates the constitutional ban on ex post facto laws by exceeding, after the fact, government’s “lawmaking power to modify bargains it has made with its subjects,” the lawsuit claims.

“By attempting to increase their own term limits retroactively, at the last minute, with a less than accurate ballot title, the Pierce County Council is attempting to improperly modify the will of the voters for purely personal and political gains,” Bockwinkel states.

The extension of term limits, if approved, will apply to all incumbent Councilmembers and not surprisingly, six of the seven, voted for Ordinance 2017-38. The sponsor of the ordinance is Councilmember and Chair of the Council, Douglas Richardson, first elected in 2012. Those voting for the charter change proposal include Councilmembers Rick Talbert (2010), Dan Roach (2010), Connie Ladenburg (2012), Jim McCune (2012) and Councilmember Pam Roach (2016) all voted in knowing their time in office was limited to two 4-year terms. Only one Councilmember Derek Young (2014), voted no vote though he personally opposes term limits, his voters supported two term limits in 2009 and he represents their position.

Significantly, as the complaint points out, a previous attempt by the County Council to extend term limits in 2009 with an accurate title was soundly rejected by the people with 67.95% of the voters voting against the measure. “Councilmembers are putting Charter Amendment 47 on the ballot which retroactively extends their own time in office while voters are on vacation and not in tune with politics. Just look at the low voter turn-out of 18.7% for the recently held Primary. We hope a more accurate ballot title will better inform the voters,” said Judt Shrode, one of the plaintiffs.