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posted: 6/25/2010 12:01 AM

Discussion about term limits in Naperville is just a start

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When I called my dad on Father's Day, we commiserated a little about the state of the union. We always talk politics.

I mentioned that addressing term limits had made it to the agenda for the Naperville City Council where councilmen and the mayor- under a council-manager form of government - currently can serve unlimited four-year terms.

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In ancient Greece and Rome, elected officials were limited in the number of terms they could serve.

Many framers of the U.S. Constitution, including Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, considered that term limits would place checks on individual power and corruption.

Yet today, the majority of elected officials in our nation- except for the president of the United States- seem to talk about self-imposed term limits on their public service when they first run. Then they change their minds after they get a taste of politics, its prestige and all its perks.

My dad thinks the two of us have been discussing term limits since the late 1950s. He always credits the example of George Washington, who followed an unwritten law when he refused to run for a third term as president.

March 1979 came to my mind because that's the year our first child was born in New York City. Though always a political junkie, that year I began to pay attention to public officials who ran for re-election again and again. And I passed my passions on to our daughter.

What I absolutely know for certain is that my interest in term limits did not begin June 15 at the Naperville City Council meeting.

Election rules, costs to achieve name recognition and the power of incumbency have made it nearly impossible to vote elected representatives out of office - whether or not elections are nonpartisan and whether or not they're in Naperville. The topic comes up during every election cycle.

Though I got lost for hours reading the posts online about term limits, I'll try to be brief.

The Naperville Voter Education League - organized a year ago after Councilman Jim Boyajian made good on a re-election campaign promise to hold a public forum for constituents to vent their opinions, pro and con - could be one city council meeting away from seeing the question placed on the Nov. 2 ballot.

At the June 15 meeting, Bill Eagan, a one-time city council candidate who is chairman of the voter education group's petition initiative, led an appeal to the city council to support giving voters at large the opportunity to consider term limits.

After City Manager Doug Krieger explained the process, a hearty discussion followed and seven councilmen directed city staff to draft clear referendum language for an ordinance that would limit councilmen and the mayor to three consecutive 4-year terms beginning in 2013. Term limits would not be retroactive.

Councilman Dick Furstenau did not support going forward, noting he'd never been for term limits. Mayor George Pradel was absent.

A resolution by the council must be adopted by Aug. 29 if the question is to be included on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Once the city council approves the language of the ordinance, perhaps at the meeting on July 20, the voter education league and other organizations plan to educate and engage a wider audience of residents for open, healthy discussions.

Though council meetings can become a little scrappy at times, for the most part I think our elected officials run a pretty cohesive city with good value. I'm told next year they'll be streamlining even more.

That said, having served on a number of local boards and committees, I'm well aware that our city has attracted many creative and intelligent minds who might serve if term limits were in place. Fresh ideas and wider participation are important.

Certainly, my support of addressing term limits is not personal; nor do I think the discussion should stop at our city's borders.

I've also discovered that the subject of term limits evokes powerful passions on both sides of the argument - even within support to petition the issue for a ballot vote.

Placing term limits on the ballot is just a start. Who knows how many voters will be pro or con? But we just might get the ball rolling to help expand the discussion nationwide.

Let the games begin.

• Stephanie Penick writes about Naperville. E-mail her at spennydh@aol.com.

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