COVINGTON, Ga. – A chance for city of Covington voters to have a say on term limits this fall might have taken a hit Monday night after a 4-1 vote to approve a resolution calling for a binding referendum on the issue to be on November’s ballot.
Councilman Anthony Henderson cast the lone “no” vote.
The resolution asks the city’s delegation to the Georgia General Assembly to put forth legislation amending the city charter to limit the number of consecutive full terms to which a mayor or councilmember may be elected to four.
Even though the resolution easily passed, City Attorney Frank Turner said during the work session preceding the meeting that simply passing it might not be enough to get it before the legislature.
“There are no written rules on any of this,” he said, “But, the general practice is unless the local body is unanimous, the local delegation is not going to carry the legislation.”
The council had previously unanimously approved term limits of three terms but that plan was rejected by some members of the city’s delegation. Monday’s vote was for an alternative plan Turner said was proposed by State Reps. Andrew Welch and Dave Belton.
“Rep. Welch and Rep. Belton hope that this will be enough to garner unanimous support,” he said.
Councilman Kenneth Morgan supported the measure. He said term limits were on his agenda when he got elected.
“All elected officials, from local officials all the way up should have term limits,” he said. “No one should ever sit in a seat for 35 or 36 years. My whole thing is you can become complacent and lose focus on the picture that’s really at hand.
“We made a decision before and we were all in agreement as far as getting this done. Now the legislators have put it back in our hands and said let’s look at doing four terms. So I think it’s important that we allow the legislators to do the job that we have within their hands and have the referendum and allow the people to vote. If we go through this process and have a referendum and the people vote it in, then we’ve heard the voice of the people.
“If we don’t do this process, we’re actually taking the voice away from the people who elected us to represent them.”
First-term Councilman Josh McKelvey said his position on term limits have evolved since the subject was first discussed.
“Kenneth came to us and brought it up and I was actually against the issue,” he said. “I was brand new here and I thought, you know what, we have elections.
“And I was here for two, three years and I saw the dynamics changing on the council with the injection of new ideas and new people from one election cycle to the next. That’s what made me a believer. Not only that, but everybody I talk to in my constituency across the city - east and west - are in support of term limits. They agree that it’s a good, positive direction.
“And it’s a great tool for knocking off a block of that political machine and the good ole boys in this community that need to be shaken up a little bit. That’s why I’m in favor of this resolution.”
Prior to the vote, Henderson explained his opposition to the measure.
“I think this is a push on fear of change,” he said. "That’s my opinion. Covington is in the process of growing and so we now have individuals that are gaining interest in running. So some individuals are in fear of individuals like that who have interest, who could possibly get in positions they currently have. That’s why I feel this is not being led by the public. It’s led by certain individuals.”
Mayor Ronnie Johnston reminded the council that the resolution would put the issue before the citizens of Covington.
“They will be the ones, point blank, who decide,” they said.
Turner said after the meeting that the odds are slim for the measure being taken up and passed by the legislature. He said Rep. Pam Dickerson will not support the measure unless it has unanimous local support.
“It’s not going to pass the house unless you’ve got unanimous support of the local delegation and there’s a member of the local delegation who won’t support it without unanimous support at this level," he said. “I think it’s likely not going anywhere this session."