Election preview: Stow voters will decide term limits in dueling ballot questions
Stow voters are facing a choice of two proposed amendments to the city charter concerning term limits for elected officials.
The ballot on Nov. 8 has two separate proposals – Issue 25 and Issue 26 – that seek to change city rules that prevent an official who is appointed to serve out someone else’s unexpired term from standing for a second term in their own right.
Under the current charter, elected officials in Stow are limited to two consecutive four-year terms of office, and council members to four two-year terms.
But when current Stow Mayor John Pribonic stepped up to complete predecessor Sara Kline’s term as mayor when she resigned to take a job in Cuyahoga Falls as director of parks and recreation, the charter deems that time as his first term. In this case, he had filled about one year of her term.
Both issues, 25 and 26, seek to address this in different ways. Voters do not have to choose one issue over the other – they are not linked on the ballot, and both issues could be passed on Election Day.
Should they both pass, the issue that totals the highest number of votes will take effect in the Stow charter.
A political action committee, Grow With Stow, led an initiative to get Issue 25 on the Nov. 8 ballot. If passed, it would permit anyone completing someone else’s term as mayor, law director or finance director to stand twice for election to their own full terms – for a maximum of 10 years in that position.
But Stow City Council has also proposed a charter amendment – Issue 26 – to update the charter and widened the scope to include all elected officials, including council members.
Led by Council Member Sindi Harrison, Issue 26 seeks to unify any changes that voters may pass over changes to term limits.
“There has been a discussion about the current language in our charter,” she said. “And it had become clear to me that varying opinions exist as it relates to someone wanting to run for a term that they would not be able to complete because of term limits. I have always believed that if you are not eligible to complete the term, then you are not eligible to run for the term at all.”
City council sought outside legal advice to clarify differing opinions on interpreting the charter as it stands and the impact of both proposed changes.
“One clear difference is that the proposed council amendment that I proposed applies equally to all elected officials in the city, while the citizen amendment is only to benefit the mayor, finance director and law director,” said Harrison, who herself was appointed to complete a term of office. “This means that if the citizen issue would pass, it still fails to resolve how partial terms apply to council members and again requiring yet another ballot issue to fully resolve the issue of partial terms.”
She said she believes there are other problems with Issue 25 as well: Namely, it would strike language from the charter that was approved in 2018. That language closes a loophole allowing an elected official to step down before their eight consecutive years are up, “and then immediately run again without stepping away from the two years as required in the charter,” Harrison said.
“I do not believe this was the purpose of the citizens' language,” she clarified. “However, with the intent so narrowly focused on changing the rules for one person, it failed to realize that there could be unintended consequences from striking the language currently in the charter.”
That “one person,” according to Stow City Council President Jeremy McIntire, is Pribonic. In a previous article for The Spotlight, McIntire called Issue 25 “political gamesmanship.”
Harrison said she wants the charter to have “clear policy that applies uniformly.”
“I do not believe rules should be changed for individual parties currently in office, and I personally have never advocated for the rules to be changed to benefit myself – the rules were clear when I took office,” she said. “Regardless of whether my proposed amendment would pass, I would not run for a fourth term in office because of the one year I served when I was appointed to my current position.”
Grow With Stow Treasurer Annie Hanson Hilaire – who led the Issue 25 initiative – said: “It is perhaps unusual that city council would put a competing issue on the ballot at the same time. It is a little confusing, but it is their prerogative. I think the most important thing is the charter has integrity and people have the opportunity to speak on the best way forward for Stow.”
Residents group Stow Collaboration for Change supports Issue 25 but not Issue 26. Secretary Aaron Yeager said: “What we decided is Issue 25 was a long time coming, and a lot of people in the community were passionate about getting it on the ballot. It needed over [1,300] signatures to get on there.”
Correction: This article originally reported that Stow City Council members can serve up to three two-year terms consecutively. It is in fact four two-year terms. We were also informed that it took 1,500 signatures to get Issue 25 on the ballot, when it was actually 1,300. The article has been updated.