SELMA – A rule to establish term limits for the city’s mayor and council members could be left in the hands of Selma’s residents now that Selma City Council has approved a resolution to get the measure added to the 2024 ballot.
The resolution passed with a 3-2 vote at the Selma City Council meeting on Dec. 4; Mayor Scott Robertson and Councilmember Sarah Guerra voted against it. As the final item on the agenda of a six-hour meeting, the council took the vote — with no public comment or council discussion — shortly after midnight.
This action came about after Mayor pro tem Beverly Cho requested a future council agenda item concerning the creation of term limits at a meeting in August. City staff discussed the options with the council at its meeting on Sept. 18, at which time the council unanimously agreed via a consensus vote to direct the city attorney to draft an ordinance establishing term limits.
“I am in favor of term limits; I think that we have a really big community, and if we get the same people on the council for an extended period of time, people get discouraged,” resident Theresa Salas said at the Sept. 18 meeting. “If there is no incumbent, it forces me to do my homework and find out who these people are, and maybe get some new blood and some new vision into the community, so I think that’s good.”
Ordinance No. 2023-6 will come before voters on Nov. 5, 2024, as part of the city’s regularly scheduled municipal elections. The formal elections process requires the Fresno County Board of Supervisors to first approve the city’s request for the Fresno County Clerk/Registrar of Voters to administer the election and include the measure on the ballot; the Board of Supervisors will vote on the matter at a later date.
At the council meeting on Sept. 18, Robertson brought up the perspective that voters may prefer the option of having the same mayor or council member for many years after a public commenter asked what the council was trying to do in terms of possibly limiting who voters could select for office.
“That’s why some voters have rejected term limits, because they’ve said, ‘We’ll put the term limits on, not you. If we think they’re doing a good job and they want to run, we’ll keep them running, and if they don’t, we want them out of here,’” Robertson said.
Terms for term limits
The ordinance takes an on/off approach to term limits, where elected officials are not restricted in the total number of years they can serve, but instead are limited by the number of consecutive terms for which they can hold office.
If passed, city council members would be limited to two terms of four years each and would have to then take “off” two terms before they could run again. The mayor would be limited to two terms of two years each and have to wait another two terms before running for the seat again.
Due to the way the Selma City Council is set up, the positions of council member and mayor are considered to be separate political offices, so a person could serve two consecutive terms as a council member and then immediately serve two consecutive terms as mayor; however, the ordinance does not allow for a person to continuously flip between the two positions.
According to the ordinance, time spent as a council member will not count as a break from time spent as mayor, and time spent as mayor will not count as a break from time spent as a council member. For example, if a person served two four-year terms as a council member followed by two two-year terms as mayor, they would have to wait a full eight years after leaving the office of mayor before they could run for a council seat again, and a full four years after leaving office before running for mayor again.
Term limits will not be imposed retroactively if the ordinance passes, but the ordinance does stipulate that if a person serves at least half of a term, that time will count as a full term. This means that the current council members who are up for reelection in November 2024 will be eligible for two full, consecutive terms in their office before the limit kicks in.
The ordinance states that “term limits established by this chapter shall be applicable to all terms of office for members of the city council measured from and commencing with the terms of members of the city council elected at the Nov. 5, 2024, general municipal election.”
The ordinance will require a simple majority to pass.