The town of Blythewood apparently has become the first municipality in South Carolina to enact term limits.
Monday night, the council passed a law limiting the mayor and four council members each to eight years in office – two back-to-back terms – despite a string of S.C. attorney general’s opinions that municipalities don’t have that authority.
The vote was 3-2 on a council whose longest-serving member took office about two years ago.
“It just freshens the pot,” Councilman Bob Massa said. “It gives a lot more people an opportunity to be involved.”
Last fall, voters kept bringing up the topic of term limits as Massa and Tom Utroska campaigned for seats on the council, they said.
The two ran as a team, defeated incumbents – and pledged to pursue term limits.
“We were trying to do what people who elected us asked us to do,” Utroska said.
The Attorney General’s Office has issued at least four opinions – most recently in 2010, for the town of Edisto Beach – finding that only the General Assembly has the authority to pass a law limiting council members’ terms.
That didn’t wash with Massa, who said, “Our thinking is, if you truly have Home Rule, and this affects only the town of Blythewood, we ought to have the ability to say whether or not our elected officials have term limits.”
If somebody sues, the council could always reconsider, he noted.
Mayor Mike Ross opposed the measure, saying voters already determine how long public officials serve.
“The people decide that,” Ross said. “If you don’t like them, you vote ’em out.”
On the other hand, if voters feel the community is heading in the right direction, they may prefer to maintain continuity, said Councilman Eddie Baughman, who was attending his first council meeting Monday.
As it stands, the two-term limit is on the books.
Blythewood, population 2,034, has had a good bit of turnover in recent years, down to the town administrator, who resigned in December.
Officials at the Municipal Association of South Carolina don’t know of any other cities with term limits, deputy director Eric Budds said.