The Brookhaven City Council July 28 approved a resolution allowing a referendum in which residents will decide whether to allow unlimited term limits for the mayor.
The resolution was unanimously passed in the council’s consent agenda, which is usually reserved for approving non-controversial items, with no discussion from the council or mayor during the meeting.
One resident opposed the resolution in the public comment section, which city spokesperson Ann Marie Quill read in the meeting.
The unlimited terms would apply to incumbent Mayor John Ernst.
Councilmember Joe Gebbia has expressed opposition to unlimited terms but did not voice his opinion about the referendum in the July 28 meeting. Three years ago, a city charter review commission recommended term limits for the mayor and council members.
The city has to get approval from the state to hold the referendum because it’s a change to the city’s charter. A bill allowing the vote passed the General Assembly on June 26, the last day of the session, and still awaits the governor’s signature.
If the bill is signed into law, the referendum would be on the ballot during the November general election this year.
The deadline to call the vote is Aug. 5, 90 days before the election, attorney Chris Balch said, which is why the council approved the move before the governor signed the bill.
According to the agenda packet, the text of the referendum vote will say, “Shall the section of the Act be approved which repeals the provision that limits the terms of the mayor of the City of Brookhaven to allow the voters of Brookhaven to choose the mayor of their choice?”
If a majority of residents voted to remove the term limits, it would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.
Currently, the mayor can serve two consecutive four-year terms, while council members have unlimited terms. Ernst was elected in 2019 for his second term, meaning the change would allow him to serve as long as he kept getting the majority vote.
The legislation originally sought to lift the term limits without a public vote. State Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) made a last-minute change during last year’s legislative session to include the referendum, which Councilmember Madeleine Simmons said was a good addition.
“This is consistent with allowing people to vote for what they want and who they want,” Simmons said during a June 23 council meeting.
Gebbia voted against supporting the state bill while all other council members voted for it.
“I ran from Day One, back in 2012, on the grounds of term limits,” Gebbia said in the June 23 council meeting. “I’m living true to my commitment. I have self-imposed term limits. I understand the arguments for this, but I do not believe it is the proper action.”
A 2017 review of the city charter by a city-appointed commission suggested implementing three-term limits for both the mayor and council to encourage other residents to run for office.
“The Commission found that the city has a wealth of well-educated, civic-minded and otherwise qualified residents available to serve elected office,” the 2017 report said. “Because of the advantages of incumbency, these talented people are reluctant to stand for office.”