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Local Government & Elected Officials

Term of Office

Contents

Introduction

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Term of office refers to the length of time that an elected official serves as a member of the governing body. State law establishes the term of office for elected municipal officials, but also authorizes a municipality to prescribe a different term by home rule-charter or ordinance. There is no limit on the number of terms that can be served, unless voters have held an election on the question and imposed a limit.

Occasionally an elected office will become vacant before the end of the incumbent's term and the governing body will appoint someone to fill the vacant seat. If this happens the person appointed only serves until the next regular election.

Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the term of office for an elected municipal official?

State law provides for a term of three years for council and assembly members and for the mayor of a first class city or borough, unless otherwise provided by home rule charter or ordinance. The mayor of a second class city serves a term of one year, unless otherwise provided by ordinance. If the term of office is changed during an incumbent's term, the change does not take effect until after their term expires. This doesn't apply if the change is due to recomposition or reapportionment. (AS 29.20.150 and AS 29.20.230).

When does the term of office begin?

The regular term of office begins on the first Monday following certification of the election, unless a different date is prescribed by charter or ordinance. If the mayor of a second class city is elected by the voters from the council, the term of office begins the first Monday after certification of the special election which must be held within 45 days after certification of the last regular election. (AS 29.20.150 and AS 29.20.230).

Is there a limit to the number of terms a member of the governing body can serve?

Unless there is an ordinance ratified by the voters allowing term limits, no limit may be placed on the total number of terms or number of consecutive terms a voter may serve on the governing body either as a council or assembly member or mayor. (AS 29.20.140 and AS 29.20.230).

How long does a member appointed to a vacated seat on the governing body serve?

A person appointed to a vacant seat on the governing body serves until the next regular election when a successor shall be elected to serve the balance of the term of office. As an example if a person is elected for a three year term and resigns their seat half way through the second year, the person appointed would only serve to the end of the second year. At the end of the second year, the seat would come up for election for one year until the three year term ends. When the three year term ends, the seat comes open for another three year term. (AS 29.20.180(c)).

Can an official be removed from office?

Yes. An elected official may be removed from office either by the residents of the community represented or by other members of the governing body.

Removal by the governing body - Unless otherwise provided by ordinance, an elected official other than the mayor may be removed from office by the governing body and their seat declared vacant for the reasons spelled out in AS 29.20.170.

A mayor may be removed and the seat declared vacant by the governing body only under the provisions of AS 29.20.280.

Recall - If the residents of a municipality are dissatisfied with the performance of an elected official, they may vote to remove that official from office after the official has served the first 120 days of the term for which elected or appointed. There are specific rules and procedures that must be followed when trying to recall an elected official. AS 29.26.240 through .360 are the statutes governing recall elections. The process includes an application for recall petition, a recall petition that is circulated for signatures, and a recall election. For a list of court cases dealing with the recall process, see the Additional Resources below. For additional information on the recall process see the LOGON topic on Recall.

What are the grounds for recall?

Allowable grounds for recall under initiative/election process are: misconduct in office, incompetence, or failure to perform prescribed duties (AS 29.26.250).

The allowable grounds in statute (AS 29.20.170 and AS 29.20.280) for removal of an elected official by the governing body are:

  • Fails to qualify or take office within 30 days;
  • Is physically absent for 90 consecutive days and not excused by the governing body;
  • Is determined by two-thirds vote of the governing body to be physically or mentally unable to perform the duties of office;
  • Is convicted of a felony or of an offense involving a violation of the oath of office;
  • Is convicted of a felony or misdemeanor described in AS 15.56 (see Current Alaska Statutes) and the members agree by two-thirds vote to expel;
  • Is convicted of a violation of AS 15.13 (see Current Alaska Statutes);
  • No longer physically resides in the municipality and the members agree by two-thirds vote to declare the seat vacant; or
  • If a member of the governing body misses three consecutive regular meetings and is not excused. (In the case of a mayor, this provision only applies in a second class city.)

Additional information on recall can be found in the LOGON topic on Recall.

Narrative

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Most local ordinances provide for staggered three-year terms in order to ensure that all seats don't become vacant at the same time. In order to stagger the seats, there has to be an initial period that seat terms vary from one to three years in order to rotate into the staggered terms.

As an example, seat A would serve a term of one year, seats B and C would serve a term of two years, and seats D and E would serve a term of three years. These one and two year terms would only last until the next regular election, when the expired term would rotate into a three year term.

Serving as an elected official requires a serious commitment of time and effort usually spanning a number of years. Before deciding to run for office, careful consideration should be given to the commitment required of an elected official.

Additional Resources

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Publications:

  • Commerce, Model Elections Workshop
  • Commerce, Sample Ordinance on Council Procedure

Internet Links:

Court Cases Dealing with Recall

Meiners v. Bering Strait School district, 687 P.2d 287 (Alaska 1984) Von Stauffenberg v. Committee for an Honest & Ethical School Board, 903 P.2d 1055 (Alaska 1995) McCormick v. Smith, 793 P.2d 1042 (Alaska 1990)

Applicable Laws

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  • Alaska State Constitution
  • Article V, Section 1 - Voter qualifications
  • Article V, Section 2 - Disqualification, loss of voting rights
  • Article XI, Section 8 - Recall of elected municipal officials

Alaska Statutes

Revised 10/09/03

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