February 2015 Column - Proposed Term Limit Law Should Not Exempt Current Officeholders

Recently, several of my colleagues in the Erie County Legislature proposed a law that would impose term limits on all county elected officials.  The law allows for three four-year terms for the County Executive, Comptroller, Clerk, District Attorney and Sherriff and six two-year terms for legislators.  The law is sponsored by five of the six legislators in the Majority Caucus.  My name is absent as a co-sponsor, and I’d like to explain why.

At the moment, I am undecided on whether or not I support term limits.  What I am very certain of, however, is that if term limits are put in place we should not grandfather ourselves in, exempting us from their intended impact.  The law as currently proposed does this, and I feel it’s hypocritical.

While I’m currently undecided, I do understand the arguments being made in support of term limits.  As legislators, we must learn from and react to the corruption taking place in Albany.  Politicians frequently promote reforms as the best ways to fight corruption; however, that argument does not apply to Erie County right now. 

There is no rampant abuse of power and corruption taking place in the halls of Erie County government, and I don’t believe we should be scaring people into thinking that is the case. Our local government situation is already different from that of Albany and Washington, in that it already has inherent safeguards to corruption, such as the Control Board.

Our biggest defense is an intelligent electorate that tosses out bad politicians in elections, which I believe are the ultimate term limit.  In Erie County’s history, a total of 129 people have served in the Legislature.  Of them, only 15 have served longer than the proposed term limit of 12 years.  No County Executive has ever served longer than the proposed limit, and only two county-wide elected officials ever have.  Those officials were Comptroller Alfreda Slominski (R) and County Clerk David Swarts (D), both of whom were incredibly talented and served the county well. Simply put, they earned their final terms and Erie County taxpayers benefited from their service.

I am also concerned about the legality of the law in its current form.  As county legislators, we have no authority to dictate the terms of elected offices that are defined in the State Constitution. This is well established in case law, specifically when the NYS Court of Appeals ruled that Suffolk County could not limit the terms of its District Attorney.

While I explore my stance on term limits, I will offer a compromise.  I will propose a local law that imposes term limits on the Legislature, Executive, and Comptroller, while removing state mandated offices.  Those term limits will remain the same as currently proposed, however current elected officials will not be exempt.

As elected officials, we should lead by example.  I cannot in good faith support a law that will prevent someone from having the same opportunity as me to serve in the future. Furthermore, I will never support a law that treats me differently than anyone I am elected to serve.

Legislator Lorigo

Contact

 

Joseph.Lorigo@erie.gov
Phone: (716) 858-8922
Fax: (716) 858-8818

Legislator Joseph C. Lorigo - District 10
Old Erie County Hall
92 Franklin Street, 4th Floor
Buffalo, NY 14202