Atwater city councilman wants to set term limits

An Atwater city councilman is spearheading an effort to limit the number of years a City Council member and mayor can serve in public office.

Councilman Larry Bergman said the idea came from community feedback and has garnered strong support. 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.

“I feel that if you keep a limit of 12 years, we will be bringing in more fresh ideas,” Bergman said. “Once you get into a routine, you tend to lose sight of what’s fresh and what’s going on in the community.”

Bergman said he wants more public input before trying to get the proposal on the November election ballot for a vote. If the measure passes, Atwater would join Merced in setting term limits for city council and mayor.

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 that of Mayor Pro Tem Craig Mooneyham and Councilman 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. Rivero could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Faul told the Sun-Star on Tuesday she has not decided if she’ll seek re-election, citing minor health problems, but that she has some concerns about setting term limits for Atwater’s elected officials. “I think getting to know the history and people you’re working with throughout the Valley is one of the nice things about being in office longer,” Faul said. “But I think if term limits get more people to run, then that’s good. I think more people should be encouraged to take part in it.”

Faul suggested the city look into how term limits work for other cities and decide whether they motivate more people to run for office.

Merced Mayor Stan Thurston said term limits have worked well for the city and believes they should be implemented at all levels of government.

Merced council members are limited to two four-year terms and the mayor to two two-year terms, said city spokesman Mike Conway. The term limits date to the 1960s, he said.

“I am absolutely and totally in favor of term limits for elected officials for all offices –federal, state and local,” Thurston said. “Those that stay there a long time develop an unusual amount of power and it gets stagnant. Particularly in local politics, I think if people stay too long, they get stale.”

Mooneyham, who was elected in 2010 and will seek re-election this year, said he hasn’t gotten much feedback from the public about term limits, but that there are some benefits. “It allows for various new ideas and ways of doing things and conducting the affairs of the community,” he said, and that he would like to study the option and get the public’s input. “I’m generally in favor of term limits, but the obvious downside is the public is denied the right to chose who they want in office and for how long.”

Councilman Jeff Rivero took a stand against term limits Tuesday, saying it restricts the voice of voters. “My question would be how many people have served more than three terms in the last 20 years?” he said. “Why are we trying to put restrictions on the voters? We should let the voters select who they want. The citizens of Atwater have done a great job in the past of regulating who they want on the board.” Rivero, elected in May 2010, said he’s unsure if he’ll run for re-election this year.

Bergman said Tuesday he believes bringing fresh ideas to the Atwater City Council is critical to moving the city forward. “I think we have people (on the council) making statements about how they did things before,” said Bergman, who was elected to council in 2012. “We can’t live in the past. We need to look toward the future so we can keep taking steps forward. We’ve got to be progressive.”

The councilman said he wants people to call or email him with their opinion about the term-limits proposal. “I want to hear from more citizens to see what their thoughts were,” Bergman said. “We need to look at what’s best for everyone and not what’s best for the small minority.”

Bergman asked the public to contact him at (209) 495-2139 or lbergman@atwater.org.