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Hudson Valley News

Westchester County Exec Proposes Shorter Term Limit For His Position

Westchester County Executive George Latimer
Courtesy of the Office of the Weschester County Executive
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Westchester County Executive George Latimer

The Westchester County executive has proposed stricter term limits for his post. He just submitted legislation to the Board of Legislators.

Democratic first-term County Executive George Latimer says the time is right to reduce the current three-term limit, or 12 years, for county executive to two terms.

“And I do believe right now, at this moment in America, is the willingness of elected officials to act with some restraint, some self-restraint, and an ability to operate in more of a cooperative and an inclusive fashion rather than, I have all the power to do this, so I’m going to do this,” Latimer says.

The three-term limit was enacted in 2011, and Latimer’s legislation seeks to amend that law.

“But I think it’s important to understand this is the time right now to make this move,” Latimer says. “We have a good relationship. We’re not doing this in a moment of crisis between the two branches.”

Latimer is leaving term limits for county legislators as they are — six, two-year terms. 

“We’re not touching legislative term limits in this. And that is to allow a legislator to serve longer than a county executive would serve. So that gives a person a sense that if I have disagreement with this particular county executive, another county executive might yet be in office that I would serve with. So it kind of rebalances a little bit. So I think there is general support for that,” says Latimer. “Individual members will take their individual positions on it. I know a couple of them expressed to me general opposition to term limits. And I can respect the general philosophy of that. But, in this particular case, as I’ve said, you have term limits in force already; it’s only a question of tightening it up on the executive side  So I think there’ll be support for it at the end of the day, and I think it’ll be bipartisan support. I don’t think this is going to break on partisan lines.”

Latimer says, if the measure passes, and if he is reelected to a second term, he would stop there and honor the two-term limit. And he says the term-limit proposal is consistent with his other actions.

“We started our term by taking the name of the county executive off all signage for parks and other buildings. That was a statement that I thought was necessary to make because we were trying to redirect the way the county government operates, not around the agenda of a person but around certain principles that we thought could apply,” Latimer says. “The way we’ve worked with the legislature — you’ve seen us sign bills that the legislature has passed, and we’ve gone down to the eighth floor to sign it in the legislative chamber to show that this was a legislative initiative which we are agreeing to, as opposed to the only wise policies come out of what the executive does.”

Latimer references the Constitution in his proposal.

“We’re watching right now in Washington DC a battle over the relative authority between the executive branch and legislative branch,” Latimer says. “And, for those of us who remember what we studied in high school and college, the Constitution was constructed with a very delicate balance of checks and balances because the Founding Fathers understood that we had to have an executive function in a government but we also had to have an executive function that was held in check in a way that a king was not.”

In Ulster County, Democratic County Executive Pat Ryan signed term-limit legislation in August, limiting county legislators to six, two-year terms; and for countywide offices, like county executive and comptroller, it’s three, four-year terms.

“I think in passing and signing this law we are recognizing that we have to constantly reinvigorate and reenergize our democracy, and that ultimately no elected office should belong to any individual, but it always has to remain in the hands of the people,” Ryan says.

The bill’s two main sponsors were a Democrat and Republican. And Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro signed similar legislation earlier this year, also for the same number of terms for legislators and elected county officials. Under state law, term limits cannot be set for county clerk, sheriff, district attorney or judges. The term-limit laws in Dutchess and Ulster Counties take effect in 2020, and apply to office-holders who were elected in November.

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