Will Terms Go from Two Years to Four?

Will Terms Go from Two Years to Four?

City ponders change to how long officials may serve.

The Fairfax City Council is pondering whether the terms of office for the mayor, council members and members of the School Board should be changed from two to four years. And during last week’s Council meeting, they voted to place the matter on a Nov. 4 advisory referendum.

Previously, the Council appointed seven residents to review the City Charter. And when they reported back last summer, they recommended the term change for all the two-year, elected offices.

At the Tuesday, Jan. 28, meeting, School Board Chairman Janice Miller officially told the Council that the Board agrees. Afterward, she explained why.

"A two-year term is a really short period of time," she said. "People new to the Board barely get their feet on the ground [and get familiar with the issues] when it’s time to run for re-election. Having four years would give everyone more time to work together thoughtfully, purposefully and strategically to accomplish their goals."

So, said Miller, "I think it’s a good thing that we’ll have a conversation about it and it’ll be on an advisory referendum. We’re affirming our support of the proposal."

Since it’s an advisory referendum, it’s not binding. Afterward, the Council will look at how the residents voted and then make a final decision on this issue. But that’s just the first step.

Virginia’s a Dillon Rule state, meaning the localities derive their powers from the state. So if the City Council decides to increase the term limits, it must then ask the General Assembly – via its local, legislative agenda – for permission to change the City Charter. If received, the earliest the new terms would take effect would be in July 2015.

During the meeting, the Council members were initially going to vote on a consent-agenda item to place the advisory referendum on the May 6 ballot, but Councilman Jeffrey Greenfield made a substitute motion that it go on the Nov. 4 ballot, instead.

Councilman David Meyer seconded it, but Councilwoman Eleanor Schmidt said May would be better because those running for re-election would be out "knocking on doors," anyway, and could explain the proposal to the residents while doing so. But Councilman Steven Stombres said waiting until the November ballot would allow for "more input from the community." The Council then voted 5-1 to place the advisory referendum on the November ballot.