Claims of bias sink council candidate Q&A session

Susanna Freymark

How do you organise 18 candidates for an election Q&A?
Sounds like it could be a joke but for the Casino Chamber of Commerce committee it was anything but.
The Meet the Candidates forum for the Richmond Valley councillor positions was supposed to be held at the Casino RSM Club yesterday but was cancelled after accusations of bias.
Chamber vice president Gary Smith wrote a post on Facebook about what had transpired to cause the cancellation of the event; “In full disclosure, there are a number of reasons for this decision. There has been a perceived biased due to two candidates sitting on our current committee. One of these candidates is also married to our president. A few candidates declined to attend due to this perceived bias.”
The outcome was disappointing, Mr Smith said.
It means the community does not get to question the candidates unless another organisation decides to run such an event.
It isn’t easy to make space for 18 candidates to answer every question and the chamber committee sought advice from Business NSW and its regional manager Jane Laverty who facilitated the Lismore Council Meet the Candidates forum this week.
“The precedent for all chambers is that the lead on the ticket is present at the event where questions are asked and answered,” Ms Laverty said.

It means the community does not get to question the candidates unless another organisation decides to run such an event.

With 18 candidates, it would be too onerous on the audience to have 18 answers to every question, she said.
“The team at the Casino Chamber are a fresh group and have the best of intentions. My advice was to include only the lead on the ticket,” Ms Laverty said.
Councillor and mayoral candidate Robert Hayes said notification for the event was at short notice.
“In past campaigns, usually all candidates are invited so that they have the opportunity to give their own independent answers to questions from the floor,” Mr Hayes said.
“I think that this is important for a local government Meet the Candidates function. I don’t speak for my team, I am just lucky to be first on the ticket.”
Candidate Trudy Lamont said voters should have the opportunity to meet all the candidates, not just six out of eighteen.
“Group C are independents and we don’t vote along party lines. The views of myself may not necessarily be the views of my fellow candidates in Group C. I’m unable to speak for them nor answer questions on their behalf,” Ms Lamont said.
Councillor and candidate Jill Lyons said she had no problem with only one of her Group A candidates attending the event.
“Since there will be no community opportunity to meet with us, ask questions, and have a say, I have decided to make my mobile available to anyone who has a question or a concern that they would like an answer to. Please feel free to contact me via Facebook or on my mobile 0416 032 607,” Ms Lyons said.
Candidate Patrick Deegan hoped another organisation would put on a Meet the Candidates event.
Ms Laverty was speaking with the Casino chamber to see if it was possible to reschedule the event before the local government elections on December 4.

RICHMOND VALLEY: Get to (really) know your candidates before you vote on Dec 4



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