Term-limits proposal 'singles out' council member, opponents say

Opponents say proposal targets Roseville Mayor Pro Tempore Pauline Roccucci, currently serving her third term
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
-A +A
To Richard and Pauline Roccucci, a comic strip sums it up. In the comic, five hungry wolves surround a dead deer. The line reads, “Nothing personal, just politics.” That’s what Richard Roccucci thinks is happening to his wife with a resolution recently passed by the Roseville City Council, which he calls self-serving, unfair and possibly illegal. The resolution places a proposed city charter amendment on the November ballot that would state that a city council member could serve no more than three terms in the course of a lifetime. “I’m a proponent of term limits,” said councilman John Allard at a June council meeting. “As it currently stands, Roseville does not have (true) term limits.” Currently, council members can serve a maximum of two consecutive terms — eight years — then sit out an election cycle and run again. The council voted 4 to 1 in favor of the measure June 2, with Mayor Pro Tempore Pauline Roccucci casting the dissenting vote. Roccucci is serving her third term, making her the sole council member directly affected if voters approve the amendment. “We have a lot of important things to do, we don’t need to be doing this,” she said. The couple questions the motivations for the proposal. Former councilman Richard Roccucci has his own theory. Although his wife spent roughly a third of the money spent by fellow campaigners in the last election, she garnered the most votes at 23.4 percent. Her popularity threatens other council members, he said. “Let’s just say it would make it a lot easier to run (for re-election) if the biggest competition is eliminated,” he said. ‘I didn’t want to be singled out’ The Roccuccis argue that the two consecutive four-year term limit has served the city well since it went into effect in 1974. “If it’s not broken, then don’t fix it,” Richard Roccucci said, adding that in the last 35 years, only four incumbents have sought re-election after serving eight years and waiting out one term. “I think what we’ve been doing in Roseville works well,” Pauline Roccucci said. “It gives other people an opportunity to run.” This was also the conclusion of the city’s charter review committee, which presented its recommendations to the council May 5. The City Clerk’s office found that of 59 California cities similar to Roseville, 37 have unlimited terms, 15 have terms of two consecutive four-year terms and six have limits of three consecutive four-year terms. None have lifetime term limits like the local proposal. In the report, the city clerk found “no direct over-riding citizen interest in changing current term limits.” Councilman Jim Gray later proposed adding a third term to give officeholders more time to be effective and gain experience on regional, state and national commissions and committees. He initially suggested “three consecutive terms,” but the word “consecutive” might cause confusion among voters, said City Attorney Brita Bayless. Gray did not return a request for comment. Pauline Roccucci said she believes Gray’s suggestion may have been innocent but through subsequent meetings, the idea morphed from three consecutive terms to lifetime terms to what her husband calls a “retroactive” rule. “I voted no,” she said. “I didn’t want to be singled out.” Her husband argues that the proposed change is retroactive — and, thereby, unlawful — and would likely lead to expensive legal challenges. Bayless said in her legal opinion the amendment’s language isn’t retroactive. “It doesn’t affect any service already performed,” Bayless said. “It doesn’t interrupt the ability (of a council member) to serve a term they’ve already been elected to. It applies the same rule to everyone going forward.” Pauline Roccucci, who works as a nurse at Mercy San Juan Medical Center, previously served two terms from 1989 to 1998, which included a two-year stint as mayor. Because she earned the most votes in the November 2008 election, she will become mayor this fall when current Mayor Gina Garbolino leaves office. If the ballot measure passes, Garbolino, Gray and Allard could serve another term. Councilwoman Carol Garcia could serve two additional terms. Both Garbolino and Gray have repeatedly said publicly that they will not seek re-election. Garcia did not return a request for comment. Pauline Roccucci, 62, said during the June 2 meeting that “nobody knows what life will bring,” and she had considered the possibility of running again. “It’s just very disappointing,” she told the Press Tribune. “Treat me the same way you treat the rest of the city council because I’m a member of the council.” Residents speak out During the June 16 council meeting, Roseville resident Alyssa Mulcahy spoke against the measure along with another proposal that would ensure that appointments to a council seat aren’t counted as time served in term limits. “If these two proposed changes pass as written, appointed council members could very well end up serving for 14 or 15 consecutive years,” Mulcahy said. “In my opinion, that’s not a citizen serving their community. It’s a royal reign." Mulcahy believes the term-limits proposal is a power grab designed to make it more difficult for non-incumbents to get elected. Gene Martineau of Roseville agrees. He generally supports term limits because the practice allows new voices to be heard, he told the Press Tribune. As it is now, Pauline Roccucci is often the lone dissenting voice, he said, while the other four members “never ever have a different voting scheme.” “It’s sort of ridiculous,” Martineau said. “The way it’s set up, it’s like they’re trying to get rid of (her) … I don’t think it should be on the ballot because it’s aimed at one person.” Richard Roccucci also spoke out at the last several meetings, suggesting the council modify the provision to apply to council members elected after Nov. 2, 2010. “I want us to go forward in a positive way,” Pauline Roccucci said Friday. “Put (the proposal) in a framework so the city isn’t sued and I’m not hurt.” Sena Christian can be reached at