Over the past 18 years I have served in four different elected positions — city councilman, mayor, state representative and state senator.
All of these offices that I have had the honor of holding have one thing in common — they all are two-year terms.
During this past legislative session, two bills were introduced dealing with terms of office.
One bill, HB 1509, changed the terms of school board members in the Savannah-Chatham County school system from four to two year terms while the other, HB 1254 called for a referendum for voters in Pooler to decide whether they want to change from two to four year terms for city council and mayor.
The debate between two-year terms and four-year terms brings out many good points.
Sure, two-year terms would seem to hold incumbents more accountable to the voters, but some offices require more time for policies and programs to take effect. In my opinion, school board and city council offices are an example of this.
During the nine years I had the honor and privilege of serving as mayor of Pooler, I ran for office five times. I always felt that the terms for mayor and council should be four years and not two and this is why I helped sponsor HB 1254 to ask the voters of Pooler whether they wanted to extend those terms.
Since 1994, I have run for office 10 times, including the last three years in a row. Campaigns are tough, requiring much time and money, a fact that tends to discourage people from running.
Two-year terms can also have an impact on administrative personnel. Administrators want and need to know who they will be answering to and what is expected from them. Changing elected officials every two years can result in higher turnover of personnel, again leading to policies and programs having less time to take effect.
This is an especially important issue with school boards as a good and qualified school superintendent who works well with the school board members is a prerequisite for a successful program.
At the state level, representatives and senators all serve two-year terms. While there has been talk in the past of changing this and legislation has been introduced, nothing has passed.
Statewide offices, such as governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, and other offices are all four-year terms.
Federal offices are interesting in that congressman serve two-year terms while senators serve six-year terms.
Our president, of course, serves a four year term and is limited to two terms.
Term limits is another subject that has gotten some attention lately — how many times a person can succeed themselves.
In Georgia, term limits are primarily placed on chief elected officials such as governors, mayors and county commission chairs. State representatives and senators are not limited in the number of terms they can serve and some take full advantage of this as we currently have members who have served as long as 34 consecutive years.
The longest serving legislator in our state’s history was Hugh Gillis from Soperton, who retired after serving a combined 56 years in the house and senate.
However in other states, such as Florida, state representatives and senators serve two-year terms but are limited to the number of terms they can serve in succession.
But term limits can be tricky — many people believe that if we have term limits for elected officials we should also have term limits for bureaucrats, some of who become entrenched in their positions and are unresponsive to the needs of the people.
Two-year or four-year terms?
Should a person be allowed to serve as long as they want and can get elected or should they be term limited?
While good points can be made for both sides of these questions, one thing is certain — we need good people serving at all levels of government no matter what the term of office.