Auditor says term limits’ time is up

EVERETT – Forgive Snohomish County Auditor Bob Terwilliger if he appears a little threatened.

The three-term administrator must step down next year after 14 years as auditor because of term limits.

In 2005, his pay raise was vetoed by County Executive Aaron Reardon.

Now, he faces a proposal that would strip several top county officials of the right to be elected by voters.

Though he says he doesn’t take it personally, it’s no surprise to see him going on the offensive.

Tonight, he takes his case to the Snohomish County Charter Review Commission. He plans to urge an end to term limits, reforms for the county salary commission and protections for voters to choose their elected officials.

“I think term limits have come and gone and had their day in the sun,” Terwilliger said. “The voters are the best judges of whether a person should be retained or not.

“These offices should not lose their leadership by virtue of an artificial provision like term limits.”

Term limits swept the country as a popular issue in the early 1990s, according to the national advocacy group U.S. Term Limits.

But such laws are rare in Washington state: Snohomish and Pierce counties are the only ones with term limits. Spokane, Tacoma and a few other cities also have them.

The Snohomish County Charter that was adopted in 1980 limits county elected officials to three consecutive terms.

Most recently, the rules spelled the end for Executive Bob Drewel and Assessor Gail Rauch in 2003, and Treasurer Kirke Sievers in 1995.

At the end of 2007, the rules will force out six more elected officials, including Sheriff Rick Bart, Clerk Pam Daniels, Treasurer Bob Dantini, Terwilliger and County Councilmen Gary Nelson and Sievers.

“That’s a lot of institutional knowledge,” Terwilliger said.

Voters have never had the chance to consider whether term limits are right for the county, he said.

Terwilliger, 58, has worked 10 years as chief deputy auditor and 12 years as auditor.

“If I had the opportunity to run again, I’d run,” he said Tuesday. “If an incumbent is not doing the job, the voters know that, and the voters will turn that incumbent out.”

The charter panel meets once every 10 years to consider reforms for county government and propose them to voters. The panel is also considering asking voters to take elected positions such as Terwilliger’s and make them appointed positions.

“We’ve already voted three times to keep these positions elected,” Terwilliger said, citing 1980, 1986 and 1996 charter ballots. In 1996, voters approved making positions nonpartisan, but still subject to a vote.

The Snohomish County Charter Review Commission meets at 6:30 tonight at the County Administration Building, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett. County Auditor Bob Terwilliger and County Executive Aaron Reardon will speak.

Some politics Terwilliger said he could do without. He wants the panel to consider reforming the county salary commission, which meets every two years to consider the pay of the 11 top elected county officials.

Pay raises fell prey to politics last year. Reardon vetoed the raises because they were higher than what he was negotiating with county employees at the time.

The County Council didn’t override the veto, apparently because it was an election year.

Terwilliger said he wants the panel to consider depoliticizing the salary commission and take away the power to veto or amend proposed raises.

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or

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