Allan Domb Wants City Council Term Limits. His Colleagues Aren’t Fans.

It’s a simple idea that the councilman hopes will spark bold policy choices. But many Council members — including those who have served for more than a quarter of a century — are opposed.

allan domb city council term limits

Allan Domb. Photo by Jared Piper/PHL Council

Philadelphia City Council member Allan Domb wants fresher ideas — and colleagues.

Domb introduced a bill this week to cap City Council members’ time in office to three consecutive four-year terms, or 12 years total. No such limit currently exists.

The at-large Council member —who’s currently serving his first term — argues that imposing a restriction would “allow for fresh ideas and increase diversity in City Council candidates,” as well as create “a more engaging democratic process for voters and candidates.”

“Term limits move officials to make bold policy decisions and to hold leaders accountable,” Domb said in a statement on Thursday, after he introduced the legislation.

His reasoning? First, eight out of 10 of the nation’s largest cities (like the “forward-thinking” New York, Houston, and L.A., he said) currently impose City Council term limits. Second, Domb said, term limits affecting state offices like attorney general, auditor general, and governor “have been widely successful with their agendas.”

Domb is proposing to amend the city’s Home Rule Charter to allow for such a change. If his bill passes City Council, the switch would require voter approval in the form of a ballot referendum in the May 19th primary election.

The problem? It doesn’t look likely to pass.

This is Philadelphia City Council we’re talking about, after all, where five out of 10 district Council members are currently serving beyond their third term — and where two of them, Council members Jannie Blackwell and Brian O’Neill, have been in office for more than a quarter of a century.

Sure, Domb’s bill is co-sponsored by Council members Mark Squilla and Helen Gym. But after speaking with various Council members, both WHYY and the Philadelphia Tribune reported that the measure is pretty much doomed. According to the publications, Council members Blackwell and O’Neill, as well as Curtis Jones, David Oh, Bill Greenlee, Blondell Reynolds Brown, and Kenyatta Johnson have said that they’re hesitant to sign off on the measure. O’Neill even went so far as to claim that term limits are “anti-democratic and anti-American,” according to the Tribune.

By and large, the disapproving City Council members’ reasoning is that in their eyes, elections are term limits. But the issue here is that district council races aren’t really historically competitive. As the Philadelphia Citizen explained in January, eight out of the city’s 10 district council members ran basically unopposed in the last election — and in the past 35 years, only 13 incumbent Council members who have served a full term have relinquished their seats to challengers.

This isn’t the first time a City Council member has proposed term limits. A measure sponsored by former City Council member W. Wilson Goode Jr. in 2010 also would have restricted Council members to serving three consecutive terms. But that bill obviously died a sad death. Which is unfortunate, because as the Citizen stated last month, a 2015 poll by the political action committee Philly 3.0 found that more than 70 percent of Philadelphians favor City Council term limits.

In the unlikely event that City Council were to approve Domb’s bill — and then voters were to approve the ballot referendum — the measure would go into effect in 2020.

Either way, all 17 City Council members — 10 district and seven at-large — are up for reelection in November. And a lot of people want to take their places. So there’s your best chance to impose your own term limits, voters.