Kyogle mayor: Who gets to choose, people or councillors?

Susanna Freymark

Shemozzle. That was the Kyogle Council meeting on Monday, March 14.

Shemozzle is a Yiddish word for a confused situation or a mess.

And what a mess it was, in the discussion around having a referendum to ask residents whether they want the mayor elected directly by the people.

It started out when Councillor Janet Wilson put a motion to the meeting.

She was clear why she was doing this.

“Residents have a right to have a say,” she said.

“Residents should be asked if they want a popularly elected mayor.

“This has been asked for a long time. It is their decision not mine.”

A referendum question should be simple.

Do you want the mayor to be elected directly by the people?

Residents would tick Yes or No. Mosman Council asked its residents this in 2008. Simple. Not a sniff of shemozzle.

Back in Kyogle last night, a heated discussion followed.

Cr Maggie May put forward three amendments. Each was voted down.

There was discussion about the cost of a referendum.

Council’s corporate services executive manager Marcus Schintler had spoken with the Electoral Commission.

It would cost $60,000 to hold a referendum. $8000 if the referendum was held at the same time as the local government election. Council would bear this cost, he said.

The meeting then discussed reducing the number of councillors to two in each ward rather than three.

This would save the council money – about $40,000 a year and would soon cover the cost of a referendum, general manager Graham Kennett said.

There was discussion about changing the wards.

“Ward C takes up two thirds of the electorate of the LGA,” Cr May said.

“We should abolish wards altogether. That question should be asked.”

Mr Schintler said the wards are based on population, not geographic areas.

Ward C is almost two thirds of the LGA.

Cr James Murray said two councillors wouldn’t be enough to cover the area in the ward.

Cr Danielle Mulholland said she wasn’t comfortable with abolishing wards: “You’d end up with councillors from town centres.”

Councillors don’t just represent their ward but the whole of the LGA, she said.

“Our ward system is completely outdated,” Cr May said.

Cr Wilson attempted to get the meeting back on track – deciding about the method of electing the mayor – and reminded the meeting why she had put the motion forward.

“The motion is about asking constituents, not about getting councillor’s opinions,” she said.

“It’s about giving residents the right to make a decision.”

Cr Rob Cullen said the mayor’s term should be one year.

“You run the risk of the popularly elected mayor being a wealthy person.”

Cr Cullen said everyone he spoke to was happy with the system and didn’t want a popularly elected mayor or a change to the ward system.

The discussion went on for an hour, back and forth, amendments suggested, amendments voted against.

Arguments were bandied around, with intense interruptions between Cr May and Cr Wilson.

“Is this designed to bomb the whole process?” Cr Wilson said.

Bomb it did. When it came to the vote – Mayor Kylie Thomas, councillors May, Cullen, James Murray, Cooper voted against holding a referendum to ask residents whether they wanted to elect their own mayor.

Cr Mulholland, Cr John Burley and Cr Janet Wilson voted for the referendum.

Cr Hayden Doolan was not at the meeting and sent his apologies.

This issue is not a new one for Kyogle Council.

The graph below is from a Kyogle Council ratepayer/resident survey in 2009 that found that 78% wanted a say on how the mayor was elected.

Kyogle Council ratepayer/resident survey 2009 by Jetty Research.

But last night, yet again the motion for residents to have a say was defeated. The system remains as it was.

The simple proposal of asking residents if they wanted to vote for their mayor or not was lost.

Here is the recording of the Kyogle Council meeting.

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