By Sara-Megan Walsh
Town of Huntington council members will reopen the issue of setting term limits for elected officials by putting it before residents next month.
The town board voted unanimously to hold a public hearing Dec. 13 on term limits for all elected officials in the town.
Councilman Eugene Cook (R) presented a revised resolution that proposed that individuals elected to the offices of town supervisor, town council, town clerk, receiver of taxes and superintendent of highways be limited to three consecutive terms, for a total of 12 years, in the same office.
“Since I’ve been elected, I wanted to put term limits in and I didn’t have any support for it,” Cook said. “I spoke to the new [elected officials] coming in, and they asked me if three terms was alright.”
Cook previously made an effort to bring up term limits in August, which was defeated. This revised resolution differs from his August proposal, which suggested setting the limit at two consecutive terms, or a limit of 8 years in office.
The August proposal failed to move forward after Cook and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) tried to amend it so that the nonlegislative positions of town clerk and receiver of taxes would not be term limited. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D), Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) voted against the amendment because they said they believe term limits should apply to all elected officials equally.
“I believe what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Cuthbertson said after the Nov. 10 board meeting.
Petrone, who is preparing to leave office after serving for nearly 24 years, and Cuthbertson (D), who was re-elected Nov. 7 to his sixth term having already served for 20 years, have both agreed to move forward with a public hearing Dec. 13.
The supervisor admitted while he was not initially in favor of implementing term limits, he’s had a change of heart.
“Term limits bring movement, people can move to other places,” Petrone said. “People in the town can move, like Susan [Berland] did, to the county when there are vacancies and there’s only a vacancy in the county because there’s a term limit.”
Berland, who first took political office as a Huntington board member in 2001, ran a successful campaign to be elected the next representative of Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District Nov. 7, taking over for Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills). Stern could not run for re-election due to being term limited.
Similar to Cook’s revised resolution, Suffolk County legislators are limited to serving 12 years in office.
Cuthbertson said he agreed to have the public hearing and will listen to what residents have to say on the issue Dec. 13 before making a decision.
The Nov. 9 motion to move forward with implementing term limits comes only two days after state Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R) was elected to be the town’s next supervisor and his running mate, Republican Ed Smyth, won a seat on the town board. Both Lupinacci and Smyth’s campaign promises focused on government and ethics reform, including support for term limits for town officials. Lupinacci and Smyth take office in January 2018.
“While we appreciate the town board’s enthusiasm about term limits, we may better serve the public by passing a comprehensive ethics reform package beginning next term, which includes term limits for policy makers, among other initiatives which make government more transparent, accountable and efficient for the people of Huntington,” Lupinacci said in a statement.
The town board has the option of voting on Cook’s resolution at their Dec. 13 meeting, immediately placing term limits on those newly elected.
Cook said if his measure is not approved in December, he will continue to push for reform.
“If it doesn’t go through, I’ll put it up again in January,” Cook said. “It’s good for the people of Huntington, that’s for sure.”