A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Do Term Limits Place Sarasota at a Regional Competitive Disadvantage?

As I understand it, part of the argument for term limits is to prevent County Commissioners from acquiring power. But power is something we want our commissioners to have, particularly when working in a regional context. If Sarasota County were an island floating in the Gulf of Mexico, its commissioners might not need to collaborate (and sometimes compete) with other counties. But Sarasota County exists in a regional context and one that, in general, is not term-limited.

The map below shows many of the counties immediately surrounding Sarasota County, The light blue counties are not Charter Counties and cannot impose term limits (or at least without going to the Legislature). The counties in reddish tones are Charter Counties and can vote to have term limits. The light pink (Pinellas, Charlotte, and Lee) have not voted for term limits while the darker ones (Sarasota, Hillsborough, Polk, and Orange have. 

You'll note that none of the counties contiguous with Sarasota County have term limits (even though Charlotte could). Of the seven counties Sarasota is most likely to be lumped in with, only one, Hillsborough, has term limits. This means that if term limits are enforced in Sarasota County (or even if no one served more than two terms for any reason) Sarasota County commissioners could, and almost inevitably would, be dealing with commissioners from neighboring counties with many more years of service.

What would this mean, as a practical matter? More experienced, longer-serving commissioners can be expected to have more contacts in agencies and the Legislature, have a better memory of prior agreements (or disputes) and generally have a more nuanced and complex understanding of their county's regional situation, especially since it is relatively rare that commissioners are elected with deep understanding of issues outside their county.

These regional issues include water supply, both transit and road-building, utility corridors, navigation, habitat connectivity, hurricane evacuation, and other issues. 

Only 15% of Florida counties have term limits. Whatever real or imagined benefits accrue with those counties as a result are tempered by liabilities. In recent years Sarasota County has been well served regionally by commissioners with years of experience. If commission length of service is truncated to a maximum of two terms (eight years), it is reasonable to assume our regional influence will also be truncated.