Sanders proposes term limits for Jackson County officeholders

They didn’t know it when they ran for re-election in 2010. But eight of the Jackson County Legislature’s nine members might now be serving their last term in office, if voters approve a term-limit proposal put forth Tuesday by County Executive Mike Sanders.

And those legislators wouldn’t be the only office holders forbidden from running for re-election. Sanders himself wouldn’t be able to run again when his second term expires in 2014. Yet the Democrat thinks term limits are something county voters should at least consider in a ballot issue later this year.

“I think eight years makes a lot of sense,” Sanders said.

He laid out his specifics in an interview with The Star Tuesday afternoon, following a more general discussion of election reforms at the legislature’s weekly meeting.

Term limits weren’t on the agenda. What was, instead, was a hearing on a proposal by Legislator Theresa Garza-Ruiz to change the way names are listed on the ballot for county offices. Currently, names are listed in the order that candidates file for office. Some say that’s unfair because incumbents and county employees can get into the courthouse ahead of others.

Under Garza-Ruiz’s proposed legislation, ballot order would be determined by lottery, as it’s done on the state level.

That opened the door to a broader discussion. Sanders said the county should take a look at two related issues — term limits and restrictions on campaign contributions — by changing the county charter.

“I’m for looking at all of them,” said Fred Arbanas, who this month began his 40th year on the legislature and is by far the longest-serving member of the body.

Next in seniority is Dennis Waits, who received his 25-year service pin at Tuesday’s meeting, followed by James Tindall at 20 years over two stints.

Only Crystal Williams, first elected in 2010, would be eligible to run again in 2014 under the scenario Sanders’ favors: eight years in any single county office with no option of sitting out one term and running again, as has happened more than once on the Kansas City Council. Other county officials affected would be the sheriff and prosecutor. But a charter commission and voters would make those decisions.

Likewise, Sanders envisions the charter commission setting some limits on how much money any one donor can contribution to candidates. While that hasn’t been a big issue in county government, Sanders is concerned that someone could come in an essentially buy an election.

He hopes to put the charter commission’s recommendations before the voters at the Aug. 7 primary, but would wait until November’s general election, if need be.