TOM WARD - The pluses and minuses of 4-year terms locally

TOM WARD - The pluses and minuses of 4-year terms locally

“Those who would carry on the great public scheme must be proof against the most fatiguing delays, the most outrageous insults, the most mortifying failures, but worst of all the presumptuous judgment of the ignorant on their grand design.”

The words were written by Edmund Burke, but spoken last week by Cumberland attorney William Murphy as we met outside Dave’s Marketplace and chatted about the Cumberland Town Council’s vote insisting on an “all or nothing” vote on four-year terms for future mayors, town councilors, and School Committee members.

To put it more succinctly, he said Burke’s quote was like Harry Truman’s simpler and more memorable “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Town Council members and supporters like School Committee member Paul DiModica made their case last week that all elected local public officials should serve four-year terms, ending the current two-year terms. Most gave the reason as a steep learning curve for new members, as well as the need to take the long view with programs that need time to be fully funded and mature. And on paper, I understand that concern. When my brother, Lincoln Finance Director John Ward, served his first term on the Woonsocket School Committee about 20 years ago, I asked, “How’s it going?” and he told me he’d signed up for a second full-time job. To do School Committee well, he said, the learning curve for state laws and rules around school funding is steep. The job is so much more than visiting with the kiddies and working on a budget.

Another reason given by councilors was that more people would run if given four-year terms. I’m not so sure of that.

But then I’d counter with, “What happens if voters don’t like your plan?” Four years is a lot of time. Something worthy of consideration might be staggered four-year terms, so there might always be an experienced hand in place, but that was never a consideration.

In a letter to this paper, Charter Review Chairman David Chenevert, a former council president himself, expressed disappointment with the decision to “bundle” the terms. Commissioners, four of them past town councilors, wanted separate questions for each position.

I’m not going to get more deeply into this. I’ll just say I think there’s an epic belly-flop coming. Four-year terms, with none staggered, will lose. I might be wrong, but I doubt it.

Exhibit A

I received a wave of inquiries from people in Lincoln wondering about a possible conflict of interest in the hiring last week of Melissa Goho as new principal of Lonsdale Elementary School. She is the wife of School Committee Vice Chairman Joseph Goho, who works daily as North Providence High School principal.

Let me be clear. Goho is a very well respected principal, and the results at North Providence High School under his leadership are very good. He has served well on the School Committee for two years. All that said, even I was left wondering. I’m not sure if my personal standards are too high, but were I ever to serve on a school committee, I would never allow a family member to get a job in that town. Or I’d quit the panel. For me, it would be one or the other.

When I asked Mr. Goho about this, he replied in an email: “I do not see a conflict of interest. I am one of seven members of the schools’ governing body which is the Lincoln School Committee. Dr. Filippelli is the direct supervisor of all employees, including administrators. To those who see a conflict, I always try to respect everyone’s opinion and perspective. I would point them to her resume which is quite extensive. I did not participate in any aspect of the interview process. I was not present for the appointment vote. As a parent and taxpayer, I will continue to feel confident and comfortable making decisions with honesty and integrity which I have always done as one member of a seven person body in the best interest of all students.”

I take Mr. Goho at his word. But for those who might not, he is currently in the middle of his four-year term, and will not face voters this fall.

Hey Cumberland, are you paying attention?

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze newspapers.


To the discussion I would add two requirements for consideration;

1.- Term limits for all positions.

2.- Age limits at both ends, say 27 years old for youth, 72 years for seniors. Too little world experience with the young, too much nostalgia from seniors.

1) My understanding is if 4-year terms are approved in Cumberland, they will include term limits of 8 years.
2) Your second idea on age limits is probably unconstitutional. (Maybe you're joking.)

Not joking, submitting an idea whose time may have come due to long life expectancy.

Constitution is silent on ages except for establishing minimum ages for President (35) Vice President (35) Senate (30) House (25). In Rhode Island 18 years of age is the minimum age requirement for all political offices.

And of course Youth Labor Laws set minimums for
employment and citizens must 18 to vote. Minimum age requirements are well established and constitutional.

Should there be a maximum age given that employment/career can be regulated by age (airline pilot, military, some first responder positions), that housing is subject to age restrictions (55 plus communities), that state vehicle licenses regulations requiring eye exams, physicals, testing for older drivers are being reviewed? Silver Alerts alone recognizes and acknowledges cognitive aging problems.

Presidents Reagan, oldest (77) and Kennedy, youngest(43) are the bookends by age of the Presidency. Do we want to venture past those current marks?

Because there are currently no maximum age restrictions to hold political office doesn't mean there shouldn't be any.

The thinking that establishes minimum age requirements (little cognitive maturity) may also apply to establishing maximum age restrictions (declining cognitive ability).

Yes I'm painting with a broad brush and acknowledge exceptional individuals who defy age at both ends of the scale. But they are the exception individual surrounded by reality.

BTW our Founding Fathers did recognize the "dangerous defect" in the Constitution, Unlimited Terms. President George Washington himself limited his tenure to 2 terms.

Thank you Mr. Ward for the challenge.

Will your paper be part of this?

"the editorial board of the Boston Globe is proposing that newspapers across the nation express their disdain for the president’s rhetoric on Aug. 16 with the best weapon they have: their collective voice."

I frequently do not agree with your editorials...but would never consider your paper an "enemy of the people".

Take a stand.