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Voters in Chemung County will decide if county executive, legislators should have term limits

The John H. Hazlett Building in Elmira houses the offices of the Chemung County executive and Chemung County Legislature.
Natalie Abruzzo
The John H. Hazlett Building in Elmira houses the offices of the Chemung County executive and Chemung County Legislature.

Term limits are now on the November ballot for Chemung County voters.

The county legislature passed resolutions in May and June to bring the matter to the public to decide "yes" or "no" at the polls.

During the full Chemung County Legislature meeting on June 12, resolutions for Local Law 3 and Local Law 4 were passed, 14-0, with one legislator excused, for a November ballot measure to impose term limits on the 15 county legislators and the county executive positions.

The new local law changes proposed both elected positions be limited to three, four-year consecutive terms. Candidates also have the ability to run again after sitting out one, four-year term.

It means there is a possible run of 12 years in a row if elected each term. Currently, there are no term limits for these elected offices.

“I think that's more than enough time to get in there and get your agenda created and hopefully adopted and do what you can and then let somebody new come in with new ideas,” said Chemung County Executive Christopher Moss.

Moss said term limits were a platform issue during his campaign for the county executive office. He explained some of his career ambitions beyond the county executive position.

“I don't even know if I'll be here 12 years, to be honest with you. I could run for Assembly, I could run for state Senate, I could retire,” said Moss. “So there's a lot of options out there. I've been fortunate to have been with the sheriff's office for 30 years, and now I'm on my fifth year as county executive. So I think I have a lot of options out there. Even the private sector, really haven't gone that far yet. But I can just tell you, I feel strongly that, you know what? Even if I was here for 12 years, it would be time for somebody new to come in. I don't think the position of county executive was made to be a career position.”

Members of the Term Limit Review Advisory Committee said they decided on consecutive limits instead of lifetime limits to give voters an opportunity to re-elect candidates who have been termed out of office after three, four-year terms in a row.

“We're allowing the people to have a buyer's remorse,” said Chemung County Legislator Michael Saglibene. “If somebody left, but they really wanted them, we wanted the opportunity for them to be able to vote them back in.”

The committee consisted of five Republican members from the county legislature: Saglibene, John Burin, Rodney Strange, Scott Drake, and Tom Sweet.

Sweet, expressed his objections to term limits during the committee meetings and full legislature meetings but voted "yes" on June 12 to place a referendum on the November ballot.

County legislators, Martin Chalk, Brent Stermer, Michael Smith and Joseph Brennan voiced opposition and/or voted "no" to the resolutions during the full legislature meeting on May 8. However, each one, except for Smith who was excused, voted "yes" on June 12 to bring the matter to the voting public in November.

The county legislature requires a simple majority of eight votes to pass a resolution.

Voting someone in or out of office is what happens at the polls, according to League of Women Voters of New York State Deputy Director Erica Smitka.

“We essentially oppose term limits because we see elections as the people's opportunity to elect or re-elect their representative,” said Smitka. “Not having term limits really puts that power back into the hands of the people and empowers voters instead of having it be more of an arbitrary timeline.”

According to Smitka, incumbents bring institutional knowledge to the job. New legislators rely more on staff and have to spend more time learning the position. However, when voters look for new people with new ideas, incumbents are challenged at the voting booth.

“Not having term limits, again, put it back in the hands of the voter and empowers voters,” said Smitka. “And if you as a voter don't think that someone should be in office as a lifetime position, then you've got the right to exercise that viewpoint at the ballot box.”

It is now in the hands of voters who will decide in November if term limits should become law. Chemung County early voting is Oct. 29-Nov. 6 and the general elections are on Nov. 7.