By Brian McNamee.
Pros and Cons on 4 Year Term for the Office of Mayor
There is a citizen’s initiative petition being circulated by the Quincy Chamber of Commerce to add a ballot question regarding a 4 year term for the Office of Mayor. If successful with this petition a question regarding the 4 year term will be on next November’s election ballot.
The Chamber believes that the business community is best served by a longer term for the Office of Mayor because it contributes to a more stable and predictable government structure. Presumably this institutional stability would result in a better economic climate. The current two year term creates a distraction, or at least a disruption to the governance of the City, because the Chief Executive has to campaign when he or she might otherwise be running the City.
Permit me to underscore that the Chamber of Commerce represents its membership, a subset of the “business community” in Quincy. Some members of the Chamber are Quincy residents and hold their views in that capacity; some members do not live in the City. Why is this observation relevant? To properly frame the debate we need to acknowledge that this initiative petition is being circulated by a business organization with a unique point of view, but it is not entirely Quincy based. There is nothing wrong with that. All advocacy requires a “point of view”. However, given the origin of this initiative, it should be noted the President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does not have a four year term. Does Quincy’s Chamber of Commerce President have a 4 year term?
When one engages in an important public policy debate and takes an active role in advancing the debate, the philosophical orientation of the proponents should be understood. It should be noted even if the interests of the Chamber are considered to be narrow that does not make them any less valid. Yet, when a significant electoral change is contemplated should not the debate turn to what is good for the voter? What Mayoral term best serves the Citizens of Quincy?
The dichotomy of the 4 year term debate is best presented by one view that assumes the longer the term the more continuity of executive leadership and consistency with respect to public policy. However, Quincy’s policy objectives are not solely economic. In governing the City important public policy decisions need to be made in other areas, such as, public safety, education, code enforcement, the environment, and other core municipal services. The opposing view, for those who want the shorter 2 year term, is based on a desire to endorse (ratify leadership) elected officials every two years by ballot. The 2 year term is the only way a voter can immediately change the public policy direction of the Chief Executive. This is a powerful check and balance outside of those traditionally guaranteed by the Branches of Government. The initiative petition’s question is a challenge to whether you, the voter, are to retain this powerful check at the two year mark.
Some voters feel four years is a long period of time. If a course is set incorrectly a lot of damage can be done before the voter gets a chance to correct it. The two year term permits a mid-course correction. It is interesting to note that one of Quincy’s longest serving Mayors, James Sheets, served six consecutive 2 year terms. For three of those terms he had no challengers. In his third and fifth terms he had challengers (Roger Lyons in 1995 and Robert J. Boussy in 1999), but they were races in which the challengers could not muster more than 15% of the vote. It was not until his twelfth year in office that he did not get re-elected. One has to decide whether the 2 year term benefited the voters any less than what a 4 year term would have benefited them?
A final observation on this subject has to do with a powerful incumbent’s ability to raise money. The 4 year term gives a decided fund raising advantage to a Mayor. Over 4 years the incumbent can amass a substantial war chest almost assuring that any challenger would be at a marked disadvantage from the outset. This is one of the reasons, argued by some, that the Mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, has been Mayor for 19 years.
Perhaps this debate must include a consideration of term limits. For now, I will resist delving into that discussion. How many years a Mayor is to serve in Quincy will be properly decided by you, the voter, if this question makes its way to the ballot box.