Fairmount Heights Mayor Lillie Thompson-Martin said she remembers projects grinding to a halt after the town’s annual elections for half of the six-member council.
“We had large projects where we had worked well as a group with mayor and council,” said Thompson-Martin, who originally served as mayor from 2003 to 2007 and returned in 2011. “But with the turnover from the election, it just didn’t materialized.”
In an effort to improve the council’s ability to see projects reach fruition, the Fairmount Heights Town Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve a resolution to force a voter referendum on extending the term lengths for the mayor and council.
Officials say the mayor and council’s two-year terms are not long enough to implement any major projects to improve the town.
The town’s charter currently requires the mayor and Town Council members to run for re-election every two years, with an election for half the council each year. The four-year term proposal would allow for a two-year gap between municipal elections, which officials said will also save the town money. The town budgets $2,050 for the election each year, according to the town budget.
Councilwoman Andina Keith, who has been on the council since May 2012, said having half of the council often swapped out every year made it difficult to stick with any one project.
“It’s just hard to get anything accomplished when there’s that change every year,” she said. “A lot of projects never [got] finished because there was no cohesiveness in the group.”
Councilman Kevin Downing, whose seat will be up for re-election in May, said it is particularly difficult to start or pick up ongoing projects for the first few months after being elected. Downing was first elected in May 2011.
“We need continuity between the council and mayor,” Downing said. “People don’t realize that once you’re in office it takes a while to get a hold of and understand the job.”
Daisy Capers, a longtime town resident and president of the Fairmount Heights Civic Association, called the measure “one of the best things” passed by the council in recent memory. She said longer terms would be a good first step toward making major improvements in the town.
“For the big problems facing the town, we haven’t had anyone who has stayed long enough to fix them,” Capers said.
Thompson-Martin said although she has not scheduled a date, the town will likely hold a public hearing for residents to discuss the issue in March. Residents will have an opportunity to vote on the measure in the May 6 municipal election.