Hillsborough Commission term limit loophole up for review

term limits
Seat swapping could become a relic of the past.

The Hillsborough County Charter Review Board is honing in on a loophole that allows County Commissioners to bypass term limits by swapping seats.

In a meeting Tuesday evening, the review board, which is made up of 14 commissioner appointees, continued to discuss a proposal to alter the wording of the county charter in order to more clearly enforce term limits.

The current county charter, which was approved by voters in the 1980s, allows for sitting Commissioners to serve more than two full consecutive terms by switching between single-member district and countywide seats. The board is made up of seven Commissioners, who serve four-year terms.

If the board moves forward with the proposal, it will appear on the ballot in 2022 for Hillsborough County voters to decide. However, the review board has not been able to vote on moving the proposal forward because it has yet to meet a required in-person quorum.

The board plans to consider the term limit proposal again in January, but requires two public hearings and a yes from at least 10 of the members before it can appear on the ballot.

But, not all are on board just yet.

“We have term limits, it’s called the ballot box,” review board member Mary Figg said at the meeting. “If the citizens — the voters — want to keep a representative for 3o years, why not, it’s their vote.”

Member Mitch Thrower echoed Figg’s sentiments, agreeing that term limits are decided by voters.

“Term limits — it sounds great, the public loves it, but it’s not good government,” Thrower said.

Member Sean Shaw said he plans to vote in favor of the proposal, even though as a whole he does not support term limits. Instead, he said, he sees this as a chance to close a loophole that has been taken advantage of.

“I agree. I served in the Legislature. I think term limits are a bad idea,” Shaw said. “I think we are merely following the will of an already expressed motive of the voters by following through and closing this loophole.”

The panel looked to other county charters as examples, including Brevard, which states that no County Commissioner shall serve more than two consecutive terms.

This election, Commissioner Sandra Murman ran a campaign on the loophole. In the 2020 election cycle, Murman faced term-limits in her District 1 seat, and ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Pat Kemp for the District 6 seat.

Kemp has held the District 6 seat since 2016, making this her first reelection campaign, one where she didn’t expect to face an incumbent.

Murman served 10 years on the board and, had she won this year, would have served at least another four. Commissioner Ken Hagan has served since 2002, an entire decade more than the eight years prescribed under the two-term limit. He was first elected to District 2 and then, facing term limits, swapped to District 5 and was later elected again to District 2.

While appointed review board members are considering closing the loophole, opponents may be onto something with assertions that voters can impose term limits by voting Commissioners out of office.

While it used to be commonplace for Republican members, such as Hagan, to strategically plan seat swaps to stay in office, countywide races are becoming less and less safe for GOP candidates, as evidenced this year by Murman’s loss to Kemp.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]


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