NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — Members of boards, commissions and committees in Narragansett would be limited to serving two consecutive terms under a proposal before the Town Council.
The council voted Sept. 20 to continue the proposal to its following meeting, but not before much discussion and some public comment on the measure, introduced by President Pro Tem Susan Cicilline Buonanno and President Jesse Pugh.
If the council passes the rule change as written, membership on a board, committee or commission would be limited to two consecutive full terms, with a one-term hiatus before a member could be eligible to serve on the same board, committee or commission again.
The change has its origins in a 2012 ballot question that amends the home rule charter. The amendment approved by voters added an article on boards and commissions that provided structure and organization, established term limits and allowed for alternate members to be appointed.
“The residents really wanted term limits, especially on zoning and planning,” Cicilline Buonanno said. Residents had complained about some members of those boards serving for “30 or 40 years,” she said.
“The practice has always been about limiting terms, but we never codified it, we never cleaned it up. This is the third attempt to clean it up,” she added.
Pugh said he had no knowledge of why councils between 2012 and now didn’t enact the amendment, either by adding it to the charter or making a Town Council rule.
“The last council did promulgate every amendment made to the charter in 2012 except for this one,” he said. “What we’re doing now is taking care of business that has to be taken care of.”
One sticky issue has been how to enforce the limits – would they be retroactive, or only apply going forward?
The current change would apply the term limits going forward from whenever the council approves it.
“It would not count a term that is currently being served,” Pugh said. A person on a committee now would be able to finish his or her term and then serve two more full terms.
“Not ideal, but I think it would cause the least damage this way,” Pugh said.
Trying to make it retroactive would complicate matters because some board members would already have reached their term limit, he said.
Solicitor James Callaghan said the council should set a firm date for when the rule would go into effect. He speculated that that was why the council didn’t act on it back when he was a member, although he said he couldn’t remember the specific reason and called it a mistake.
“If you don’t set a date, I imagine nothing’s going to happen for another nine years,” he said.
Council Ewa Dzwierzynski said it wasn’t reasonable for voters to expect the council to ignore the referendum question for almost 10 years.
“We’re accountable to uphold the will of the people, and this question was very specific,” she said.
She proposed an amendment that would have had the term limits apply to member appointments or reappointments on or after Nov. 6, 2012, but not include full or partial terms before then.
“Implementation nine years after the fact isn’t fair to members who recently were removed from boards due to the two-term limits, such as members of the harbor commission,” she said.
Discussion moved to a suggestion from Councilor Patrick Murray to have sitting board members finish their current terms and then have one more term. Anyone in the middle of their first term should be eligible for two terms after that, he said.
Dzwierzynski’s amendment did not receive a second, and the council voted unanimously to continue the matter to its next meeting.