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Farmer seeks legal opinion on term extension
Nov 24, 2004 12:00 am
Lingering questions regarding the legality of a move to extend Lebanon lawmakers' terms recently fueled the legislation's sole opponent to request a written opinion on the subject from City Attorney Andy Wright.
Ward 3 City Councilor William Farmer, who has repeatedly denounced the plan to extend some city officeholders' terms by as much as 13 months, confirmed Tuesday he had requested further input from Wright's office.
While Wright has stated the plan has received approval from the state attorney general, Farmer contended such measures have rarely been approved by governing bodies. Therefore, the extension of terms has yet to be challenged in the courts, he said.
"It's my understanding that there was a federal case in the northeast that (Wright) did talk to us about on Nov. 2 was a due process question. I did some research on that, and there are some real interesting statements that you are not supposed to devalue the vote," said Farmer, a local attorney. "I can only come to the personal opinion that if we extend our own term, then we're debasing the value of the votes of our constituents."
Farmer noted his request was not because of a lack of faith in Wright's opinion. Instead, he said the written opinion would better "satisfy (his) mind."
"This all came so quickly, and there was discussion on the Council floor," Farmer remarked. "But, I wanted to be sure that I understood what Mr. Wright was saying. This would give me a chance to review that and resolve, in my mind, the legalities of the situation. … I have a deep, fundamental thought process about the fact that we receive our authority from the vote of the people. I still believe that, and I wanted the benefit of (Wright's) thinking on this."
Wright said he had received a verbal request from Farmer Monday and expects to receive a written request in the coming days.
The city attorney added nothing different will be in the written opinion than in the verbal discussion he had with city councilors at their Nov. 2 meeting.
"Even though (Farmer) is against this, he's still a city councilman and he still has the best interest of the city at heart," Wright said. "If this is the route the city is going to take, he just believes we need to have a firm legal position and would like to have it in writing just in case we do have a problem down the road."
Proponents of the measure have argued it will increase voter turnout by realigning city elections with November elections, which traditionally draw a higher number of voters to the polls. They have also stated it will save the city about $30,000 by eliminating the need for a city election day.
Though Farmer has described the intentions as sound, he explained his concerns are due to the lack of available case law regarding the legality of term extensions.
"Even though there have been things like this occurring in other areas, there is no … case law on this," Farmer said. "It's either so obvious that I'm wrong, or it's so new that nobody has attacked it."
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.