Wellington term limit ballot question has key opponent: Mayor Anne Gerwig, who says it's personal

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WELLINGTON — A term limits question on the Aug. 23 ballot has the support of Wellington's four village council members – but not of its mayor.

The measure would require mayors to be out of office for at least one year before running for a seat on the village council. It would cap the terms a person can serve at four – two as a council member, followed by two as mayor – and their length of service at 16 consecutive years.

Mayor Anne Gerwig thinks it's a ploy to force her from office in the spring of 2024, when her second term in the village's top office ends.

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"The council members voted to put that on, which would term-limit me from running for council." said Gerwig who was first elected in 2010 to represent Seat 3. "The reason that I would be able to run for council is because they are separate offices."

Council members insist the proposal is not personal.

"We just simply cannot have public officials who are just going to recycle seats and remain in power endlessly," said council member Michael Drahos, who added Gerwig has served the community admirably. "She has to let go."

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Amendment 1: Term limits for mayor, village council

In Wellington, the council operates as a separate office from the mayor. Term limits outlined in the charter haven't changed since 1996, when the village was incorporated. They allow for a person to serve two consecutive terms in each office.

In 2020, after Gerwig became the village's first mayor to be re-elected, she asked the board if the charter allowed her to run again as a councilwoman once her term ends in 2024.

Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig (center) opposes a term limit measure on the Aug. 23 ballot, saying it is directed at her and intended to keep her from running for village council in 2024, when her present term ends. Council members John McGovern (left) and Michael Drahos (right) say it isn't meant personally, but is meant to encourage people new to Wellington politics to run for office.
Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig (center) opposes a term limit measure on the Aug. 23 ballot, saying it is directed at her and intended to keep her from running for village council in 2024, when her present term ends. Council members John McGovern (left) and Michael Drahos (right) say it isn't meant personally, but is meant to encourage people new to Wellington politics to run for office.

Laurie S. Cohen, the village's attorney, issued a memo in response stating the current charter's language defines the number of terms for each office but doesn't limit a person who served as mayor from running in the council again.

The village's four council members – Drahos, John McGovern, Tanya Siskind and Michael J. Napoleone – proposed the amendment on the ballot to limit a person's ability to alternate running in both offices indefinitely without having to sit out at least one year.

Drahos says the clarification on term limits is necessary to ensure incumbents don't dissuade new leaders in the community from running for office.

"The idea that you could be on the council, run and win and become the mayor and serve presumably 16 consecutive years, and then turn right around and run back for a council seat," said Drahos, who led the initiative. "It's an endless cycle that can't be broken."

Gerwig says the amendment to the charter is unnecessary.

"The same reason that you can run two terms on council, and then terms as mayor, is the same reason that you could run two terms as mayor and be termed out and run for council," Gerwig said. "It's written that way now."

That interpretation, Drahos says, defeats the purpose of term limits.

Regular elections, councilman John McGovern said, don't serve as de facto term limits because of the advantage previously elected officials hold over newcomers.

"Incumbency provides such an advantage in fundraising, messaging and in public status," said McGovern. "If you were a new person running for the village council against the departing mayor, what would your actual chances be?"

Amendment 2: Canvasing Board

The Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office proposed a second question on the Aug. 23 ballot that would appoint the office's canvasing board to oversee elections in the village.

Wellington is one of the thee municipalities in the county that still creates a canvasing board for each election by appointing volunteers who attend training sessions, test machines and review ballots.

The task, McGovern says, is time-consuming for the board and is a process that should be handled by the county.

"Having one uniform canvassing board for all of the municipalities is functionally easier," said McGovern. "There might be times when we still have to have our own when we have a special Wellington election."

Gerwig, along with the village's four council members, supports the amendment.

"Our our clerk will still be involved in logics and accuracy tests," said Gerwig. "But, as far as canvassing the votes later, I think there are great efficiencies in allowing them to do it."

Valentina Palm covers Royal Palm Beach, Wellington, Loxahatchee and other western communities in Palm Beach County for The Palm Beach Post. Email her at vpalm@pbpost.com and follow her on Twitter at @ValenPalmB.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig says term-limit plan is directed at her