During a January work session, Leesburg Town Council discussed the possibility of imposing term limits on the mayor and individual council members in the future, a topic that returned during a recent work session.
“Term limits aren’t unusual devices used in a political community … but I think the question has come up in this particular community and this particular case only to look at, I think, how we continue to encourage growth and involvement and leadership,” Councilman Ron Campbell said.
Per Article II, Section 5 of the Virginia Constitution, the only qualification for holding public office in Virginia “shall be that a person must have been a resident of the Commonwealth for one year next preceding his election and be qualified to vote for that office, except as otherwise provided in this Constitution.”
Council documents say this means time having already served is a non-issue for candidates seeking re-election, though “otherwise provided” refers to the office of governor, who is barred from serving consecutive terms elsewhere in the state Constitution.
However, several staff contacts, including Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel, said imposing term limits on local elected officials is a laborious process that would take at least two years.
“... we’d have to find a member of [the Virginia] General Assembly to support that legislation on the town’s behalf, introduce that, then have it pass successfully [in] two concurrent years,” Markel told council.
“If you’re going to ask the General Assembly to consider that, you need someone who really has a strong presence and who can really carry the bill through,” Virginia Municipal League Executive Director Michelle Gowdy said.
Gowdy added finding a representative for such a bill in the General Assembly would be a challenge all its own, as there are numerous long-sitting members who “have no appetite” for term limits, so it would be in the town’s best interest to build momentum and seek backup from other localities with similar considerations.
On that note, Vice Mayor Fernando Martinez asked whether the General Assembly can “cherry-pick” which localities in Virginia get to introduce term limits, or if it would have to be an “all or nothing” action on behalf of the entire commonwealth. Gowdy confirmed the latter.
Councilman Tom Dunn followed by asking whether the General Assembly would have the authority to modify Leesburg’s Town Charter to remove the position that council elections are nonpartisan, further opining the town already has a “de facto party system” which both Democrats and Republicans have been “using … in force.”
Interim Town Attorney Martin Crim answered affirmatively, saying such action would require a favorable, super-majority vote from both chambers of the General Assembly.
“This might or might not have an effect on federal employees who are barred under the Hatch Act from engaging in partisan politics,” Crim cautioned.
No indication was given as to if or when the topic could return to council.