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Voters in Morgan Hill will likely get to vote in November on whether elected city officials should be subject to term limits, after the city council decided at a recent meeting to place a measure on the ballot. 

Currently, Morgan Hill and Gilroy are the only cities in Santa Clara County that do not have term limits for city council members and the mayor. That could change this year as the Morgan Hill City Council on Jan. 17 unanimously agreed to place the question of term limits on the Nov. 5 general election ballot. 

The council is also considering placing a measure on the same ballot that would change the Morgan Hill mayor’s term from two to four years. 

Exactly what the option to impose term limits may look like has yet to be determined, as the council directed city staff to return at a future meeting with more details for a potential ballot measure. The measure could ask that council members and the mayor be limited to a maximum of two or three consecutive terms, or 10 or 12 consecutive years in office; if officials can run again after a hiatus out of office following the maximum consecutive terms; or whether a lifetime limit should be placed on the amount of time someone can serve on the council. 

Based on discussion at the Jan. 17 meeting, the council is leaning toward a ballot measure that would set a limit of three four-year terms or a total of 12 years, consecutively, on the council—either as a council member or mayor. 

Also following the Jan. 17 discussion, a majority of council members voiced support for a second November ballot measure that would ask voters to increase the elected mayor’s term from two to four years. 

City staff said they could present the requested follow-up report to the council by March. The city needs to submit a ballot measure to the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters by July to make it onto the Nov. 5 election ballot.

Council member Rene Spring had asked city staff earlier in 2023 to research a potential term limits ballot measure and return to the council with details, options and more information. Spring noted during the Jan. 17 meeting that he had campaigned on such a ballot measure when he first ran for office in 2016. 

Spring told the public, “Let us know your preferences now so we can make the right decision, so we can place those measures on the ballot.”

Spring noted that “it’s the right thing to do” to let the voters decide. He said if the council doesn’t craft and sponsor a ballot measure on the issue, the voters themselves could do so through an initiative petition. At least one member of the public said at the meeting that such an effort is likely if the council doesn’t act first. 

“The question here is, do  we trust our voters to make that judgment,” Spring said. “Other cities do just fine with term limits….I think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know what we’re afraid of.”

Under California law, the city or its voters can propose an ordinance to limit the number of terms an elected city council member or mayor may serve, according to city staff. City Clerk Michelle Bigelow said the citizens could submit a measure to place on the ballot, with a petition initiative signed by at least 10% of the city’s registered voters. 

The city’s cost for a council-sponsored ballot measure would be about $60,000 per measure, according to city staff. A citizens-sponsored measure would cost more due to the additional verification work required by election officials. 

If the citizens submit a measure, “they’re going to dictate what those term limits (are) and the council wouldn’t have a say in what those term limits look like,” Bigelow told the council. 

During public comment on the Jan. 17 discussion, Morgan Hill resident Brian Espiritu told the council that he would help submit a citizens’ initiative petition if the council declined to propose and sponsor a ballot measure. 

“Democracy is messy,” Espiritu said. “Through civil discourse and (discussions) in the public square, that’s how we as a citizenry are able to get the job done…If you don’t want to do it we will put it on the ballot and do it for you.”

Council member Marilyn Librers said she generally opposes term limits at the local level. However, she supports a November ballot measure due the possibility of a citizens’ measure that would leave the current council with less control over the options ultimately presented to voters. 

“I’m probably not for term limits, but I’m more afraid of turning it over, having the public do an initiative and setting the limits,” Librers said. “I prefer we say yes to the ballot measure and set the guidelines, let us who serve decide that.”

Librers later said she was voting in favor of the ballot measure “under duress” and in response to “bullying” tactics from voters who promised an initiative petition on term limits. 

Council member Gino Borgioli said he opposes term limits because he “has never heard any concerns about” the issue from his constituents. 

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

1 COMMENT

  1. With a couple of exceptions Morgan Hill City Council and mayor are notorious for ignoring residents and the voters who put them into office. Libers comment in this article says it all “I’m probably not for term limits, but I’m more afraid of turning it over, having the public do an initiative and setting the limits,”

    Was it not the very public who elected her that she does not trust?

    As far as Council member Borgioli, he states he “has never heard any concerns” I would argue Council member lives in state of denial as there are numerous postings on social media complaining of his governance.

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