A divided City Council voted Monday to allow residents to vote on term limits for the city’s mayor and council members – limiting each politician’s total time in office to 12 years.
But the 3-2 decision didn’t come without a fight from Councilmen Joe and Jeff Rivero. Both brothers strongly opposed the measure.
“I will never support anything that limits people’s rights,” said Joe Rivero. “I believe in our freedom of choice, and I will not support a special interest group.”
The issue was first introduced in January when Councilman Larry Bergman said he was approached by residents about limiting the number of years a City Council member and mayor can serve.
Bergman said he spoke to more than 30 residents who voiced support for establishing term limits.
Monday’s action allows the city to place a measure on the ballot for the Nov. 4 election to allow voters to decide on term limits. If approved, the limit for City Council members and the mayor would be limited to no more than three four-year terms, or a maximum of 12 years.
Putting the measure on the ballot would cost the city an estimated $5,000 to $7,500, according to the city attorney.
Jeff Rivero took issue with the associated costs, saying the city – which is on the brink of an investigation of its finances by the state controller’s office – can put that money to better use in its general fund.
Jeff Rivero made an unsuccessful motion to table the item until the city adopts next year’s budget.
However, the idea of term limits seemed to garner strong support during Monday’s meeting, with multiple residents speaking in favor of it.
“This is not going to put Atwater in the red. Atwater is already millions of dollars in the red, negative cash flow,” said resident Bill Barkman. “We’re not taking anybody’s vote away. ... I would strongly suggest that you adopt this motion and give people a vote.”
Bergman said Monday that 12 years is enough time for anyone to be on the City Council.
“In my opinion, 12 years is ample time for anyone to accomplish their goal or agenda,” he said. “If it can’t be done in 12 years, then it’s unattainable or just not in the cards. Three terms would be plenty of time.”
If the 12-year term limits are approved by voters in November, it would not apply retroactively; each council member would begin at zero years.
If the measure passes, Atwater would join Merced in setting term limits for its City Council and mayor. Merced council members are limited to two four-year terms and the mayor to two two-year terms, according to city officials.
Livingston does not have term limits, said City Manager Jose Ramirez.
The longest-serving member of the Atwater City Council is Mayor Joan Faul, who’s spent 12 years on the council, eight of them as mayor. Her seat, along with those of Mayor Pro Tem Craig Mooneyham and Jeff Rivero, are up for election this year.
The second longest-serving council member is Joe Rivero, who served in the 1990s and was re-elected to his current seat in 2008.