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Term length must vary by position

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POSTED: July 7, 2010 9:45 a.m.
Over the past 18 years, I have served in four different elected positions- city councilman, mayor, state representative and state senator.  
All of these offices have one thing in common — they are two-year terms.
During this past legislative session, two bills were introduced dealing with terms of office.
One bill, HB 1509, changed the terms of school board members in the Savannah-Chatham County school system from four- to two-year terms while the other, HB 1254 called for a referendum for voters in Pooler to decide whether they want to change from two- to four-year terms for the city council and mayor.
The debate between two-year terms and four-year terms brings out many good points.  
Two-year terms hold incumbents more accountable to the voters, but some offices require more time to develop policies and programs. In my opinion, school board and city council offices are examples of offices that require more time.
During the nine years I had the honor and privilege of serving as mayor of Pooler, I ran for office five times. I always felt the terms for mayor and council should be four years, not two. That is why I helped sponsor HB 1254 to ask the voters of Pooler to extend those terms.  
Since 1994, I have run for office 10 times, including the last three years. Campaigns are tough and require much time and money — a fact that discourages some from running, especially for two-year terms.
Two-year terms can also impact administrative personnel. Changing elected officials every two years can result in a higher turnover of personnel, again interfering with the development of policies and programs.
This is especially important with school boards. A good, qualified school superintendent who works well with the school board members is a prerequisite for a successful program.   
At the state level, representatives and senators all serve two-year terms. While there has been talk in the past of changing this and legislation has been introduced, nothing has passed.
Statewide offices, such as governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and other offices are all four-year terms.
Federal offices are interesting in that congressmen serve two-year terms while senators serve six-year terms.  
Our president, of course, serves a four-year term and is limited to two terms.    
Term limits for Georgia state representatives and senators also have been discussed recently.
In Georgia, term limits are primarily placed on chief elected officials such as governors, mayors and county commission chairs. State representatives and senators are not limited in the number of terms they can serve and some take full advantage of this. We currently have members who have served 34 consecutive years.  
The longest-serving legislator in our state’s history was Hugh Gillis from Soperton, who retired after serving a combined 56 years in the house and senate.
However in other states, such as Florida, state representatives and senators serve two-year terms but are limited to the number of terms they can serve in succession.
But term limits can be tricky — many people believe that if we have term limits for elected officials we should also have term limits for bureaucrats, who can become entrenched in their positions and unresponsive to the needs of the people.   
So which is better for the state or community — two year terms or four year terms?  
Does the number of terms a person can serve need to be limited?
While good points can be made for both sides of these issues, one thing should be consistent — we need good people serving at all levels of government.

Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building Room 302-B, Atlanta, GA, 30334. His Capitol office number is 404-656-5109.
 

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