Initiative may be put to voters on Nov. 5 ballot

By Calvin Nuttall

Should there be term limits on how long an individual can serve on the Morgan Hill City Council? That question may be put up to voters in the Nov. 5 election.

The Morgan Hill City Council discussed at the Jan. 17 meeting the possibility of placing before voters in November an initiative restricting how long council members can serve. They also weighed a possible second measure altering the length of the mayor’s term from two to four years.

The details of the proposal have not yet been determined. Of the 15 cities in Santa Clara County, only Morgan Hill and Gilroy have no term limits for their highest elected city offices.

The topic was first brought forward in September by Councilmember Rene Spring. His election campaigns in 2016 and 2020 included as part of their platform implementing term limits.

“I am a strong believer it is the right thing to do,” he said. “Here tonight in front of us is the question, ‘Do we trust our voters to make that judgment?’ And we know, from searching other cities in Santa Clara County, that voters did make that call.”

In other cities of the region, voters have decided overwhelmingly in favor of implementing term limits. In the past, Morgan Hill residents circulated a petition to implement such an initiative, but the process was not completed.

“That could happen again, at the will of the voters,” said Councilmember Yvonne Martínez Beltrán.

During public comment, resident Bryan Espiritu told council members if they did not choose to bring a ballot measure forward, the public would dictate the terms of such an initiative.

“If you don’t do it, all of you will have egg on your face, and we will do it for you,” he said.

The council agreed it would be in the city’s best interest for them to move forward with placing the option before voters, even though some members were personally opposed to the idea.

“I’m probably not for term limits, but I’m more afraid of saying no and having the public do it as an initiative and setting the limits,” Councilmember Marilyn Librers said. “For that reason, I will probably have to vote for this, because I think holding that over our head . . . is probably not the best decision for our city. I don’t want to turn it over to the public. So I will vote in favor . . . but I feel it is under duress.”

During the public comment session, Kathy Napoli, a Morgan Hill resident and Gavilan College trustee, also voiced her support for term limits.

“I was born and raised in San Jose, so I’m very familiar with term limits and the benefits of them,” she said. “Both term limits and district elections allow for a diverse community to run for office. You can’t represent the community if you don’t reflect the community.”

Only one member of the public spoke out against term limits. Fifty-year Morgan Hill resident Scott Stotler believes it benefits the community to have a long-standing public servant.

“There are several mayors in our history, for example Mayor (Dennis) Kennedy, Mayor (Steve) Tate, and a lot of city council people I’ve known, who, fortunately, stayed in office quite a while,” he said. “It’s nice to be coming to a council or commission where they’ve got more of a consistent understanding of the direction of the town and of the issues. It is a plus to have somebody that is dedicated to serving the people, and I think it is good to be able to keep them.”

Kennedy, Tate and former councilman Councilmember Larry Carr are the longest-serving mayors or councilmembers in Morgan Hill’s history. Between them, they have governed city politics during recent decades with a combined 42 years of service.

“I think it is important to have new blood come in and give everybody an opportunity to be involved in this process of democracy, this beautiful wonderful thing,” Beltrán said. “Looking at the evidence, 75-80 percent of voters have been in favor of term limits. That says something to me. That says something very strongly. I absolutely respect that.”

The council will continue to discuss the issue at their next regular meeting Feb 7. In order to place the measures on the ballot in November, city staff must receive direction from the council before July in order to submit it to the county’s Registrar of Voters.

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill-based freelance reporter and columnist.