City moves toward term limits referendum

Hendersonville resident Beth Wettengel urged the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen to ask state legislators to amend the city’s charter so that citizens can vote on term limits for the office of mayor and alderman next year.

In a striking reversal from two years ago, Hendersonville’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously on Tuesday to ask the state legislature for the authority to establish term limits for the positions of aldermen and mayor.

Tennessee code allows the governing bodies of certain municipalities under a mayoral-aldermanic charter to establish term limits, but Hendersonville is not currently one of them.

Resolution 2021-43 asks members of the Tennessee General Assembly to amend the city’s charter to allow for the establishment of term limits during the next legislative session that begins in January.

After the legislature approves the change, BOMA will vote on an ordinance establishing how many terms leaders will serve and what offices would be subject to the limits. If the ordinance passes two readings by a two-thirds majority, Hendersonville voters will be able to vote themselves on the measure in a referendum – likely next November.

A nearly identical resolution was proposed by Ward 5 Alderman Darrell Woodcock in December of 2019, but fell short of the nine votes needed to pass. Several candidates for aldermen in 2020 pledged to revisit the issue.

The revised resolution cleared its first hurdle Sept. 14 when the city’s General Committee voted unanimously to recommend it to BOMA.

Two members of that committee, Jonathan Hayes of Ward 5 and Steve Brown of Ward 4 had voted against the measure in 2019.

Ward 6 Alderman Jim Waters, who brought the issue up for a vote this time around, noted that in 2019 the proposed legislation had just four sponsors. On Tuesday, every BOMA member asked to be listed as a sponsor of the legislation.

Waters noted that aldermen will debate the merits of term limits after the state legislature amends the city’s charter to allow for it.

“All we’re voting on tonight is the request to the General Assembly,” he said.

Unlike two years ago, no one spoke in opposition to the measure.

Hendersonville resident Beth Wettengel, who researched the legislation and asked Woodcock to sponsor it in 2019, urged leaders once again to allow voters to decide.

“We’re asking you to allow the first hurdle to be cleared,” she said. “It’s not about your personal belief about term limits.”

Wettengel noted that there are 4,400 more registered voters in Hendersonville than there were less than two years ago.

“Allowing voters to speak at the ballot box is the most democratic position that you as an elected official can do,” she said. “We’re not blazing a trail here. Gallatin has already allowed its citizens to vote … while we’re not pioneers, we could be trendsetters and I think that would excite everybody.”

The city of Gallatin passed a similar measure in 2018. Once on the ballot, the measure to limit that city’s council members and mayor to three consecutive, four-year terms passed with 79.8 percent of the vote.

According to state law, a measure must be put on the ballot not more than 75 days before an election. City leaders will need to get approval from the legislature and pass an ordinance by mid-August in order to get it on the November, 2022 general election ballot.