Debate continues on terms, limits

Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE – Residents hoping to cast votes on the length and number of terms for elected officials may have that opportunity, either through a petition drive or a reconsideration by city council for 2016.

Six residents asked to address city council during the panel’s regular meeting July 15, in response to a vote taken earlier this month whether to place two ballot questions before voters in the November general election. City Clerk Janice Ferencz initially proposed extending the current two-year terms office to four years.

Southgate is one of the few Downriver communities which maintains two-year terms, and elections cost the city between $25,000 and $30,000. The upcoming 2015 election features an uncontested council, an example Ferencz said of money that the city shouldn’t have to spend.

Council debated earlier this month the proposal before council – which had grown to include consideration of ending the current limits on elected terms – of putting the questions before voters failed to gain a two-thirds “super-majority” support. The motion generated a 4-3 vote of support – not enough for a charter amendment question – with dissenting votes from Councilors Bill Colovos, Patricia Ganzberger and Karen George.

A half dozen residents last week asked if the three would revisit the matter. Whether term lengths or limits they asked that the taxpayers have the chance to decide.

“I’m appalled and disappointed that a majority of council and voters were not enough to allow voters to answer the questions,” resident Mary Cummings said.

James Vance, a veteran, said the council hadn’t been asked to approve the change but to let the voters decide.

“What was asked was to place the question on the ballot,” Vance said. “I don’t understand why you would deny us this right to vote.”
Of those who’d voted against the ballot questions, Colovos said his preference would be to have the largest percentage of voters possible weigh in. The November 2016 ballot, he said, would attract the strongest turnout during a presidential election.

“I say get the best representation in 2016,” Colovos said. “We’ll get more people and true representation if the charter is to be changed.”

Colovos also said voters were free to initiate a petition seeking ballot placement for the questions, as had been done in 1995 when term limits were voted in.

“Someone said we’re taking away voters’ rights,” Colovos said. “They could have signed a petition, or, we’ll have more voters in 2016.”

Ganzberger and George maintained their positions from the previous meeting. Ganzberger said she’d spoken since the last meeting with more than a dozen people about the issues, including longtime residents who’d worked on the 1995 petition drives.

“If people want a change they can find an attorney, get it in the right order legally, and circulate petitions to put it on the ballot,” Ganzberger said. “They’d also gone before council, which had refused to put it on the ballot.”

Council President Sheryl Denman said one of the three dissenting votes was required to again put the matter before council in time for ballot placement in 2015. The discussion ended without further action.

(James Mitchell can be reached at