Resign to Run: How Common?

Resign to Run: How Common?

"A County Council member shall not be a candidate for nomination or election to any elected political office other than that of County Council without having first resigned from County Council"-Allegheny County Home Rule Charter, Article III, Section 6, b.

This provision has attracted a lot of attention in recent weeks in Allegheny County. Two members of County Council, the Council President who has already declared that he is running for County Exec and a Council member who is interested, have criticized the rule. The former stated "I am going to follow the law, but quite frankly I don’t think I should have to" while the latter opined that the "…provision was unfair and may be unconstitutional". Note that the Council President did not say "I think the Home Rule Charter provision is wrongheaded and should be changed" but instead intimated that he just does not want to follow it. It is also worth noting that a question changing requirement was put on the ballot twice in 2003 and rejected both times. A bill passed by Council in 2006 to define what was meant by "candidate" but the Executive vetoed the bill and promised to support a ballot measure which never materialized.

City Council, which does not have a similar requirement, had a brief dalliance with the "resign to run" concept when a member proposed a ballot measure; it was quickly defeated. City Council’s president felt that extending the "resign to run" requirement to only Council members would be "unfair" as it would not apply to the Mayor or Controller.

A look at the Pew Center study referenced in yesterday’s blog shows that three cities they studied have "resign to run" requirements (Dallas, Phoenix, and Philadelphia). Like Allegheny County, voters in Philadelphia rejected overturning the stipulation when it was put on the ballot in 2007. County Council, like Pittsburgh City Council and Philadelphia City Council, are not subject to term limits either. Eight cities do have them, including San Antonio which has a lifetime limit instead of a consecutive one that permits members to run again in the future.

One would hope that a primary tenet of any office holder is the belief they should obey and should want to obey the law. That is how a government of laws and not of men works. If a law is unjust or stupid, work to repeal it but an elected official should never say they don’t think they should have to follow the law. Where does that lead us and what message does it send? Public office is not the place for civil disobedience. This is not some petty, throwback law either, it is a requirement placed on Council by the Charter, solemnly adopted by the voters of the County. If the laws as written cannot be respected by a candidate then they should not be seeking office.