HP voters to decide staggered terms for mayor, council

By: Andy Kozlowski, | Madison - Park News | Published November 1, 2016

HAZEL PARK — Officials in Hazel Park are asking voters to approve a change to the terms of City Council, saying it will provide greater stability in local government.

Currently, the mayor and four council members of the Hazel Park City Council are all up for reelection the same year, every two years. On the ballot Nov. 8, a proposed charter amendment seeks to move them onto staggered terms, and to increase their terms from two years to four years.

This way, if half of the City Council changes one year and brings in new members, the other half will be veterans who can bring the newcomers up to speed on the inner workings of government.

The change from two-year terms to four-year terms will also allow the mayor and council to focus on the issues rather than on running for reelection, officials say. 

The ballot language reads:

“Shall Sections 4.2, 4.4 and 4.19 of the Hazel Park City Charter be amended to provide for staggered four-year terms for the mayor and council members beginning with the November 2019 election, and a transitional election in November 2017, in which the mayor and two council member candidates with the highest number of votes are elected to a four-year term, and the two council member candidates with the next highest number of votes are elected to a two-year term?”

In other words, if Proposal 1 is approved, the mayor and two council members will be up for a four-year term in 2017, while the other two members will be up for a two-year term. At that point, they would be on different cycles. Then in 2019, two members would be up for reelection for four years, and in 2021, the mayor and other three members would be up for four years.

During a public meeting at the Hazel Park District Library Oct. 25, City Manager Ed Klobucher and members of the City Council made the case to residents.

“We’re the only community in Oakland County that doesn’t have a staggered system, and I think the only one with two-year terms,” Klobucher said.

City Councilman Andy LeCureaux said staggered terms and four-year terms are something the council has been thinking about since the early 2000s. City Councilman Tom Selman brought up the issue recently and now it’s on the ballot.

“We’re asking everyone to support it,” LeCureaux said. “But we’re not doing it because every other community is doing it. We’re doing it because it adds stability.”

He explained how staggered terms allow veteran council members to teach new members how municipal government works.

“There’s a huge learning curve (to City Council). Once you’re elected, that’s when the hard work starts,” LeCureaux said. “You have to learn about open meeting acts, the Freedom of Information Act, Robert’s Rules of Order, the way meetings work, budgets, labor agreements, healthcare changes, infrastructure, vehicle replacement. You need to learn all these things, what you can and cannot do. So the term ‘institutional memory,’ it might sound negative, but it’s one of the things you’re doing for us. It’s continuity of management — the flow of knowledge from the past.”

He also noted that longer terms would allow public officials to focus more on the issues and less on campaigning for their next term of office.

“When you have two-year terms, you spend almost a quarter of your term — say six months — planning your re-election,” LeCureaux said. “I see Proposal 1 as modernizing our charter. This thing first came together in the 1940s.”

City Councilman Michael Webb pointed out another advantage to staggered terms.

“I think it also gives our employees here at City Hall a bit more security since they know their entire city management won’t change abruptly,” Webb said during the meeting.

During a phone interview earlier that day, he also noted how staggered terms avoid a scenario where the mayor and council are completely replaced and nobody knows what they’re doing.

“It takes a while to get trained on how to read the budget, what the budget means, what each department needs and how to make sure our tax dollars are well-spent,” Webb said. “You have to go through the learning curve. And when you have someone there who has an idea of what’s going on, at least they’ll be able to help their colleagues understand the process.”