Harford County Council Debates Term Limit Bill; Public Referendum Proposed for 2024


The Harford County Council building in Bel Air. (Credit: Van Fisher/ Patch)

HARFORD COUNTY - At Tuesday's meeting of the Harford County Council, members were confronted with a charter question that has swept across Maryland municipalities: should local officials have term limits?

Bill 23-016, introduced by council members Aaron Penman and Jessica Boyle-Tsottles, would limit county council members to serving three consecutive terms.

"This proposed term limit legislation is very simple. A council member can serve three terms as a district representative," Penman said. "In a perfect world, I believe that it should be two terms, but for the sake of compromise, this bill is for three terms."

"Our council should be ever-evolving. Many of my constituents have voiced strong support for this bill, and I proudly support term limits," Boyle-Tsottles added.

Currently, the county charter doesn't limit the number of terms a council member can serve, unlike the county executive, who is restricted to two terms. If this bill is passed, it will be presented to the public in a 2024 referendum. Upon approval, terms served before November 2026 would not be counted towards the limit.

During the 2022 election, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City voters overwhelmingly passed similar measures. Anne Arundel County voters approved a three-year term limit with 77 in favor, and Baltimore City voters passed a two-year limit with 72% in favor.

Before the 2022 election, the Baltimore County Council killed a bill that would have held council members to three four-year terms.

The Harford County bill was almost immediately controversial, with members Dion Guthrie and James Reilly questioning the need for such legislation. Guthrie, who is serving his fourth term in office, noted that it is already uncommon for council members to serve more than three terms.

He added that he has yet to reach a final decision, citing conflicting emails from his constituents.

"I'm getting a lot of emails that are against it and emails that are for it," Guthrie said. "You just have to do what's in the best interest of the county."

Several Harford County residents spoke in favor of the bill, including Major Lee Dunbar, Services and Support Bureau Chief for the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

"If it's good enough for our president, and it has been for decades, it's good enough for the governor of our state, and it's good enough for our county executive: why is it not good enough for everyone sitting up there?"

The next meeting of the Harford County Council is scheduled for Tuesday, June 13.

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