Editorial: Tweaking Riverhead Town Board terms deserves public’s support

02/12/2016 2:00 PM |

It’s a topic of discussion that rears its head in Town Hall every few years: how long elected officials should serve in office. The issue boils down to the length of an elected official’s term and whether that term can be capped.

Both could change by the end of this year

They’re topics of discussion worthy of public discourse, so it’s encouraging that Town Board members seem agreeable about holding public hearings on proposals that would limit consecutive terms in office and change an extension of the supervisor’s term from two years to four.

Unfortunately — as evidenced by a 2007 referendum on the same issue — voters have a slight tendency to adopt a “throw the bums out” mentality with supervisors. In fact, the position remains Riverhead’s only two-year elected post. While highway superintendent and town clerk terms have recently been extended by voters from two years to four, the 2007 effort to increase the term of supervisor failed by fewer than 300 votes.

The case to be made for a two-year term is simple. It gives voters a tighter leash on what is likely the town’s most powerful employee: the person who proposes the annual budget, acts as police commissioner and manages the town’s 300-plus employees on a daily basis.

The flip side of that short leash is too much time electioneering and too little time moving the town forward.

In addition, during the last election we witnessed for the first time large sums of money from outside organizations coming into a local race through a super political action committee — namely, the Suffolk County police union. In an age where citizens are now seeing the impacts of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, increasing a supervisor’s term to four years would also mean fewer opportunities for outsiders to play a role in local elections.

What’s good for the goose (the town council and every other elected position in town) should be good for the gander (the town supervisor).

Term limits — on consecutive terms in office, not lifetime limits — would serve as a counterbalance to the increased power that comes with a four-year supervisor term. Incumbency carries a certain advantage that can be difficult to overcome. While it could hypothetically remove people who perform well after three terms, there are other ways to serve the public — namely, by running for another position — which someone who performs effectively should be able to capitalize on.

Both measures are worthy of support.

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