You Asked: Can county impose term limits?

Published 3:32 pm Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Staff Writer

Q: Can term limits be imposed on the Beaufort County commissioners?
A: The N.C. Constitution makes no provision for term limits on elected officeholders.
“Term limits must be imposed by the state constitution,” Don Wright, general counsel to the State Board of Elections, wrote in an e-mail forwarded to the Daily News. “There is a statutory age limit for judges, but not term limits.”
Section 6, Article VI, of the state constitution, the Suffrage and Eligibility To Office article, addresses the question of qualifications for elective office in this state.
“Every qualified voter in North Carolina who is 21 years of age, except as in this Constitution disqualified, shall be eligible for election by the people to office,” the section reads.
Section 8 of Article VI spells out disqualifications for office, targeting as unqualified “any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God” and “any person who has been adjudged guilty of treason or any other felony against this State or the United States, or any person who has been adjudged guilty of a felony in another state” and so forth.
Section 10 of the article addresses continuation in office.
“In the absence of any contrary provision, all officers in this State, whether appointed or elected, shall hold their positions until other appointments are made or, if the offices are elective, until their successors are chosen and qualified,” this section reads.
Under state law, the only “term limits” that currently exist apply to the office of the governor, who can serve no more than two consecutive terms, confirmed Johnnie McLean, deputy director of the State Board of Elections.
Technically, this mandate isn’t a term limit because it doesn’t prohibit a governor from returning for additional terms after an absence of four years. Former Gov. Jim Hunt served the third and fourth of his four terms after spending time outside the governor’s mansion.
Term-limits inquiries were tackled in a June 1 blog entry by Robert P. Joyce, Charles Edwin Hinsdale professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina School of Government in Chapel Hill.
“Counties cannot impose term limits,” Joyce wrote. “Cities cannot impose term limits. School systems cannot impose term limits. Only through an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution could term limits be imposed on any state or local elective office in North Carolina.”
The question of whether term limits could be made to apply to the Beaufort County commissioners has arisen amid recent public expressions of dissatisfaction with the board.