Thursday, August 12, 1999

Two resisting term limits

They'll run for Mason Council despite law

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MASON — Veteran City Councilmen James “Dick” Staten and William Kidder didn't like term limits when they were passed as one of the hot-button political issues nationwide in the early '90s.

        And they don't like them now, as they plan to continue their incumbency into the 2000s.

        Six years ago, citizen activist Richard Inskeep rallied voters to pass term limits on city council members.

        Now, he's asking the Ohio Supreme Court to help him enforce those limits. The councilmen, citing an earlier Cincinnati case, say the Mason law is invalid.

        Mr. Inskeep, a 10-year resident, and three other residents — Rickey Dotson, Thomas Anderson and Charles Beatty — want an order upholding the two-term limit and instructing the Warren County Board of Elections to reject petitions of candidacy for Mr. Staten, in his fifth term, and Mr. Kidder, in his third.

        The board has said it will not reject their candidacies.

        “Unless the court compels the board of elections to comply with the term-limitation amendment in the city charter, it appears almost a certainty that virtually any and all candidate eligibility requirements will be perceived as unenforceable by the general public” Mr. Inskeep said. “The integrity and purity of the electoral process will be in real and immediate danger.”

        Mr. Staten and fellow Republican Mr. Kidder were not surprised Monday when they learned of the court action. Instead, they were almost expecting it.

        “I welcome the opportunity to clarify the charter (amendment), and if I am indeed breaking the law, I want to know about it,” said Mr. Staten, who filed in April.

        The two incumbents could become the first casualties of the term-limitation charter amendment passed in 1993.

        That amendment limits council members to two consecutive four-year terms and requires they sit out two years before they can run again. It was made retroactive, so coun cil service before the November 1993 election counts.

        Mr. Staten was elected in 1983, 1987, 1991 and 1995. Mr. Kidder was elected in 1991 and 1995. Some questioned Mr. Staten's candidacy in '95, but no legal challenge was made. Gene Beaupre, Xavier University political science professor and director of community relations, said the term-limit trend that swept the nation in the early 1990s is hitting more incumbents now.

        “It's really starting to hit the fan in Ohio, Michigan and other states,” said Mr. Beaupre.

        The courts, state and federal, have largely ruled that term limits were legal, he said.

        But it is the “retroactivity” part of the law that the two Mason councilmen have challenged.

        Mason Law Director Ken Schneider said penalizing Mr. Staten and Mr. Kidder for their service on council before the adoption of term limits violates their rights under the U.S. and state constitutions.

        “The Ohio Supreme Court has already ruled on this issue in the case of Mirlisena v. Hamilton County Board of Elections,” said Mr. Schneider. “Making term-limits retroactive is unconstitutional. Therefore, these two gentleman should be allowed to seek office for another term.”

        John Mirlisena, a Cincinnati councilman from 1985 to 1993, battled Cincinnati's term-limit law during the end of his last term. Mr. Mirlisena challenged it because it was retroactive and did not grandfather-in public officials who were already in office.

        He eventually won his case at the state appeals court, but too late for him to mount an effective re-election campaign with the appellate ruling coming only two weeks before the fall 1993 election.

        “I won the fight, but I lost the war,” he said from his home in Stuart, Fla.

        Mr. Kidder said his re-election chances have already been damaged by “false allegations” that he's breaking the law.

        “I feel that I have a right to run,” he said. “If the Supreme Court says no, then I'll accept it and step down. But until then, I'm basing my filing on the court's ruling in the Cincinnati case and what my legal counsel is telling me.”

        Enquirer reporter Michael D. Clark contributed to this report.


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- Two resisting term limits
Visit by principal can be fun