Starting the process to set term limits for Mt. Juliet political leaders is scheduled to be placed on the city commissioners’ agenda at their Nov. 13 meeting through an ordinance presented by the vice-mayor and a commissioner.
Commissioner Scott Hefner and ordinance co-sponsor Vice-Mayor Bill Trivett plan to present the ordinance that will ask to include the issue on the November 2024 ballot as a referendum.
A two-thirds vote would be required to approve a referendum, which would take four favorable votes of the five board members to pass.
There are no limits about how many terms a Mt. Juliet commissioner can serve. Hefner and Trivett submitted a similar ordinance two years ago.
“It was on the agenda to open for discussion, but my co-sponsor did not second to get on the table,” said Hefner. “He had some outstanding questions and he was very new on the commission. He wanted more time.”
Hefner said the ordinance they are writing provides a maximum of three terms of four years each for city commissioners. For the mayor, it would be a maximum of eight years served.
“This would not be retroactive,” Hefner said. “This would only be going forward. If it is voted in by citizens in November 2024 it goes into effect immediately. If any commissioner or mayor is running on the same ballot, it will be entering their first year of the terms.”
Because Mt. Juliet is a “Home Rule” city, the state legislature does not have to approve the term limits if it passes the referendum.
Commissioner Ray Justice is the current longest-serving commissioner. He said he’s served a total of 20 years on the commission.
“I don’t agree with term limits,” Justice told Main Street Media last week. “I think the voters should decide if a commissioner should be re-elected or not. If a commissioner is doing a great job, they should not be timed out. The voters vote them in and set the term limit.”
Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell said in 2017 the city council voted to create term limits and had to change its city charter, which required approval from the state legislature. The Lebanon term limits are three terms at four years each for a total of 12 years, Bell said.
“I believe civil servants have a short time to make a difference and give someone else a chance,” said Bell, who was elected mayor in 2020. “You can get a lot done in the limit of terms and at some point, you need different viewpoints.”
The Wilson County Commission and county mayor’s office do not have term limits. County Mayor Randall Hutton is in his fourth term.
“There are two sides to the argument and opinions in between,” Hutto said. “It takes a while to learn the ropes and become familiar. And on the other hand, the longer in office people say this could allow for corruption. Then citizens will vote them out. With term limits, you may do a great job and then have to leave. If I don’t do a good job, I should be voted out. The voters set the term limit for the representative.”
Mt. Juliet Commissioner Jennifer Milele is in her first full term.
“Term limits takes the incentive to pay attention and the accountability away from the voter,” she said. “Term limits will benefit no one. There is not one advantage, not one right, not one choice that you would have that you don’t already have. You and the entire city right now have 100 percent of the voting power. Each voice is equal every four years.
“If you don’t want that commissioner/mayor then you vote against them. That’s how it works and what’s fair to everyone.”
Mt. Juliet Mayor James Maness said, “I don’t have a problem with it (term limits).”
He is in his first term as mayor and was previously a commissioner.
“As a principle, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, I could have a problem with lame duck politicians,” he said. “But term limits won’t fix problems in politics. People who serve longer have a lot of experience, which people want.”
He said Mt. Juliet’s commission is fairly new, besides Justice, with an average of about five years.
“I don’t think Mt. Juliet has a problem related to needing term limits,” he said. “But, I need to know more and read the final ordinance.”
Trivett could not be reached for comment.