Group wants term limits for GR elected officials

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — How long should Grand Rapids elected officials stay in office?

While voters have the ability to limit their stay at election time, one local group says that’s not enough. They want to bring term limits to city hall.

“Career politics have done a lot to put more power in fewer hands,” said Bonnie Burke.

She’s part of Grand Rapids Citizens for Municipal Term Limits, the group that hopes to put a term limit proposal on the November ballot.

So who are the so-called career politicians at those part-time city hall jobs?

George Heartwell, first elected to the mayor’s office in 2003, has seniority on the current city commission. He also spent time on the commission in the 1990s.

In terms of seniority, Heartwell is followed by Second Ward Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss, who was elected in 2005.

The Third Ward’s Elias Lumpkins was appointed to a vacant seat in March of 2006, and elected to his first full term in 2007. First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski was elected in 2007, followed by his First Ward colleague Dave Shaffer in 2009, and Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly in 2011. Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear was elected last year.

Currently, only Heartwell and Bliss would be term limited under the group’s proposal, which would allow only two four-year terms.

But term limit supporters say it’s not about who’s in office now.

“It’s all about the system — putting in place the process, putting in place the system that allows for new ideas to come in,” term limit supporter Rina Baker said.

Heartwell says he’s all for fresh ideas.

“And when my ideas are no longer good and they’re no longer fresh, or that of any of my colleges on the city commission, then people ought to exercise their right that they have. Go vote us out of office,” Heartwell said.

Commissioner Kelly says most commissioners currently serve between one and three terms.

“I have concerns about the state (term) limits and think they should at the least be extended somewhat so as not to lose important institutional knowledge. I don’t want us to lose that at the city level,” Kelly said.

But Commissioner Gutowski congratulated term limit supporters for collecting more than 9,500 signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

“I am more than happy to serve whatever length of time our voters decide, and I thank them for this wonderful opportunity,” Gutowski said.

Voters across Michigan were asked the same question in 1992 and approved term limits for state elected officials. Results have been mixed.

Grand Valley State University Political Science Professor Roger Moiles says term limits shake things up.

“It brings in new ideas and possibly innovation. In some cases, it may bring in groups that haven’t been represented,” Moiles said.

But the ability to navigate a political minefields, knowing what worked in the past and what didn’t, is often lost.

“Eight years may sound like a long time to people, but there’s a lot of swings that you have to go through and have to understand,” Moiles said.

The petition signatures still have to be verified. If they’re all in order, the city commission will vote Aug. 12 whether to put the question on the Nov. 4 ballot.

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