By Steve Plunkett
If town commissioners had term limits, would there be enough candidates to fill all seven seats?
Commissioner David Cheifetz answers yes and asked his colleagues to consider limits at their May meeting.
“For a long time there was little turnover on the commission,” said Cheifetz, who suggested three terms as commissioner and three terms as mayor, but no more than five consecutive terms.
Town Clerk Lisa Petersen surveyed neighboring municipalities at Cheifetz’s request and reported there are no limits in Palm Beach, Gulf Stream, Lantana, Ocean Ridge or Hypoluxo. South Palm Beach commissioners can serve three terms as commissioner followed by three as mayor.
Petersen also gave a sample of former officials with longer tenures. Kelly Gottlieb and Bill Quigley each served four terms, Edward Singer served eight, G. Kent Shortz 12 and Peter Blum 16.
“If you ignore the last couple of elections and you go back, you’ll see that very, very few elections in this town were competitive. People stayed on as long as they wanted to,” Mayor Basil Diamond said.
Vice Mayor Robert Evans was not convinced.
“I think there’s just too few people that want to serve, and if we do term limits we will find it difficult to find participants,” Evans said. “There are people in this community who are politically active and make a contribution, but most people in town rely on us.”
He also said Manalapan is smaller than its neighbors and has a smaller pool from which to draw candidates.
Limiting terms would require a charter change approved by Manalapan’s voters. Diamond suggested asking voters to authorize the commission to set term limits by ordinance in case the town in the future wants to change back to having no limits.
Commissioner Donald Brennan said polarization between residents on the Point and on the ocean troubles him.
“Elections here do take on a characteristic of a popularity contest. And in a very small community it gets very personal,” Brennan said. “There is some collateral consequences to these elections when you’re dealing with a population of 400. That’s not a healthy thing.’’
Brennan said having term limits “would take some edge off or alleviate the atmosphere.”
“I do think that more people would come out, I don’t mean this in a pejorative way, of the woodwork if it wasn’t for the confrontational risk of running against my neighbor,” he said.
Commissioner Louis DeStefano said there was no need for term limits when voters can replace an incumbent every two years.
“I think our recent election speaks for the process,” DeStefano said, citing the March losses of Gottlieb and William Bernstein and his and Howard Roder’s victories in 2010.
Brennan said Manalapan’s very small population and a geographic split work against it.
“It’s been very hard to bring these two things together,” he said. “That is not something that other communities have to deal with. Ocean Ridge doesn’t have to deal with the dichotomy between two physically disparate places, two radically different property values.”
Brennan said another benefit of term limits is having new faces dealing with issues such as the water plant and outsourcing police services.
“You get people sitting here for a long time that made many of the decisions that we’re now trying to address,” Brennan said. “You cannot get an open discussion of that if you were the author of the decision.’’
Diamond agreed he had a new perspective on government after taking a two-and-a-half-year hiatus from officialdom.
“When you’re on a commission or any board for a long time, you settle into a pattern and you’re associating with the same group,” he said. “I don’t think you’re as fresh as you are when you leave” and come back.
In the end, commissioners asked for a draft ordinance to consider Diamond’s suggestion of setting term limits by ordinance.
“Then we can experiment with it and see if we end up with no commission,” Evans said.
In other business, Town Attorney Trela White reported that Wendy and Louis Navellier’s motion for a new trial on their pool cabana dispute was denied. The Navelliers can still appeal, she said, but a $250-a-day code enforcement fine continues to accrue.