Term limit extension proposal riles some legislators

County Legislators Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, and Tom Drumm, D-Oswego, seen above left to right at Monday's meeting of the Oswego County Legislature's government, courts and consumer affairs committee. Wilbur and Drumm are at odds on a proposal to extend legislators' terms from the current two years to four years.

OSWEGO — The county Legislature is moving forward with a plan to trade two-year terms of office for four-year terms as all 25 seats are up for a vote in November.

The county Government, Courts and Consumer Affairs Committee on Monday approved a July 25 public hearing on a local law to increase the term of office to four years. If approved by the full Legislature after the hearing, the measure would be put to a public vote in November alongside the 25 legislature seats.

Republicans, who currently hold a 20 to five majority in the county Legislature, are pushing for the change, saying it would provide for more seasoned lawmakers and save the county money in long-term by cutting in half the number of elections. Democrats, in contrast, say the move is politically motivated at a time the Republican Party stands to increase it’s stranglehold on the county Legislature.

Amendments to the state’s election law resulted in a “prolonged election season every other year, running from February to November,” according to the proposed legislation.

Aside from the county Legislature, elected offices in Oswego County, including district attorney, sheriff, treasurer and clerk, serve four-year terms.

Legislature Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, said the state’s recently adopted election laws, which altered the petitioning timeline by several months, forced legislators seeking re-election to start their campaigns roughly 13 months after taking office. Wilbur and other Republicans on the committee said two-year terms don’t provide enough time for incoming lawmakers to fully grasp the inner workings of county government before facing another election.

“And if you add on to that the cost that our Board of Elections is undergoing that’s another thing,” Wilbur said. “We just had primaries, that’s a cost, and we’d take them out for an extra year.”

Legislator Tom Drumm, D-Oswego, said in the past he’s been open to four-year terms, calling it “an idea worth public input and conversation.” Drumm conceded Wilbur’s point on the cost savings, adding Democrats were more than willing to entertain the proposal but said to do so in the midst of the current election season “is nothing short of crazy.”

“There’s times to call politics on the carpet and this is one of them,” Drumm said. “Without a doubt this is shaping up to be an advantageous year for Republicans locally.”

Drumm said Democrats previously brought up the possibility of extending term limits in the past only to have it shot down by Republicans, who now appear to be on board as the party is poised to take a 23 to two majority in the Legislature. He proposed instead to have the change take place after the 2021 election, but the Republicans in the room did not entertain the proposal.

Wilbur said the move had nothing to do with Republicans prospects in the upcoming election, and noted the measure would be put to a public vote if approved by the full Legislature following the July 25 hearing.

“We’ll let the people decide,” he said. “Let’s move forward and see what the people have to say.”

Chairman James Weatherup, R-Central Square, said the Democrats’ previous support of the change, but now sudden opposition to it, is purely political.

Weatherup said it takes “a long time coming up to speed” after taking office, and the lengthened term would allow for better representation.

“It’s not a radioactive idea to the Democratic caucus,” Drumm said, and noted his opposition is to the change happening in the middle of the election cycle.

Minority Leader Frank Castiglia, D-Fulton, who chose not to seek re-election in November, said he has no problem with three- or four-year terms, but questioned the timing of the move. With Democrats already a significant minority, Castiglia said Republicans have the power to govern as they see fit.

“(Republicans) can call the questions when they want to; they can strike things down when they want to,” Castiglia said. “It’s sad that [the Legislature] is being run by the whims of the Republican Party.”  

Election Day is Nov. 5, and the mandatory referendum would appear on ballots throughout the county. If approved, the terms would be extended immediately.

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