Mike Ivino, who joined the town board of Saugerties in January, has introduced a proposal to impose term limits on the town’s elected officials. His draft legislation calls for town-board members to be limited to two four-year terms and town supervisors be limited to four two-year terms. The terms of town justices, town tax receiver, town clerk and highway superintendent would not be affected.
Ivino said term limits was one of the hottest topics voters discussed during his recent campaign. Establishing term limits was displayed prominently as the first bullet item in all his campaign literature.
“The big thing is, they say, let’s see the voter’s choice in the ballot box,” Ivono said. “And I get that. But the voter’s choice isn’t necessarily kept in the voter box, and it’s not necessarily the opinions of the majority of the party. If somebody, if the party doesn’t do a caucus during their nominating convention and they do a regular vote through the committee, the committee is deciding who can and cannot run on the line.”
Councilman Paul Andreassen said that he has tried to get term limits on the town board’s agenda for the past two years. “I would support that on a town level because it gives a chance for new ideas to come in, that way it’s not a monopoly,” he argued. “The same people running every year. It opens it up to different ideas, a different focus. It will eliminate the potential to become comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, with departments, and as you know getting too comfortable can quickly breed contempt, and it might cause you to look the other way on different things. It’s just healthy for the community.”
The other two board councilpersons, John Schoonmaker and Leeanne Thornton, and town supervisor Fred Costello Jr., oppose term limits.
“I think with term limits it takes power away from the voters, it limits their choices,” said Thornton, elected this past year to her fourth four-year term. “If you’ve been in office and you’re doing a good job and have experience, the community recognizes that. If you’re in office and you’re not doing a good job or following through on policy or … listening to what the public has to say, we’re not going to put you back in office.”
Costello served on the town board for three full terms and is currently serving his second term as supervisor. “I think there’s a political component to this proposal,” said Costello. “We should move on and do the people’s work. The Saugerties public is smart enough to figure out who they want to represent them politically, and they aren’t shy about that. This is clearly a political tactic against Leeanne and myself.”
Schoonmaker considered his own political career evidence that term limits were unnecessary. “When I ran for the town board in 2017, I didn’t have a dime to my name.” he said. “If we had corrupt politics like people say we do, I should’ve had no chance at winning my seat, We saw Nicole [Roskos] and [Ivino] run — [Neither is] very wealthy, [but both were] able to make good campaigns. The ballot box is your term limit.”
The legislation has yet to be discussed publicly at a town-board meeting, Ivino has sent a copy of his draft resolution to each board member and the press in an attempt to start a dialogue. Ivino and Andreassen want the measure discussed in public.
“I’m a month in, and I’ve already changed things and made things happen,” argued Ivino. “I don’t want to be here my entire career, and I don’t think any government position should be a career or lifelong position. Term limits make you focus on the timeline at hand and push you to do what you want to do or what is right, what your constituents want you to do. This isn’t personal, it’s not a vendetta against anybody …. [pursuing this legislation], letting people know that I’m delivering on what I said I would.”
Ivino contended that term limits would result in greater voter participation. “Term limits, I think, there’s people that are going to say, I’ll never be able to compete with Mike Ivino, he’s been here for 26 years, or the Andreassen name is a big name, I’ll never be able to compete with that. It discourages people from running. If people knew they were going to have a chance and a full shot, we would see more involvement.”
Andreassen disagreed with the sentiment that those who are reaching the mandatory end of their term will work less fastidiously for their community. “Anybody who thinks that anybody in these elected positions that they’re the only ones that can do that work, history has shown otherwise,” said Andreassen, who ran unsuccessfully against Costello for town supervisor last November. “Certainly people come in, there’s a learning curve, they excel and they do very well. It’s why I admired [ex-] congressman Chris Gibson, who term-limited himself. The argument is that if you’re a lame duck and you’re going to not care. He cared until the last day he served.”
Costello disagreed with Andreassen, writing that an elected official in their last term of eligibility “is not bound by their fear of the ballot box.”
“Anything that limits the public’s opportunity for political choice should be considered very carefully,” Costello wrote in an email responding to Ivino’s proposal. “Term limits artificially impose a decision on residents by limiting the choice of who they can vote for. Term limits by their nature ignore any potential value that knowledge and experience offer to the political process. While knowledge and experience are not the only consideration a voter should value, being denied the opportunity to consider them has an implication as well.”
He attached a spreadsheet chronicling the time served by each town supervisor since 1890. The average time as supervisor was 3.8 years, and the only three candidates to exceed twelve years were John D. Fratcher, Peter Williams and most recently Greg Helsmoortel. Costello also noted that of the eight years his name has appeared on the ballot, he ran opposed for seven. He considered that evidence that “our political system is dynamic, healthy and working.”
It’s unclear whether term limits could be established by a sitting town board, or whether a voter referendum would be required. A number of other New York towns have imposed term limits on their elected officials.