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‘No’ to mayoral referendum

Geoff Helisma |

“I’ve been a gambler and a punter most of my life,” Cr Arthur Lysaught told his fellow councillors at last week’s February 26 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting.

Councillor Lysaught was concluding his debate about holding a referendum at the 2020 CVC election, to publically elect a mayor to a four-year-term.

He said he had probably “backed another loser” [his motion].

“I believe they [voters] are capable of doing it; it is a shame we have not at least given the community the opportunity to decide,” Cr Lysaught said.

Only Cr Richie Williamson supported Cr Lysaught’s motion.

During debate Cr Lysaught said he “believes this is what the community and ratepayers want” and that various “constituents” had contacted him in support of the idea.

Councillor Andrew Baker said he would not “go through the 153 reasons … to refuse this”, fearing that someone could be elected mayor, but not act as a standard councillor.

He didn’t want to leave the door open to a candidate who would be happy to “commit to be mayor at the exorbitant salary … of $50,000” and “be away from their business  … if they get … the perks and the mayoral chariot … but might not be prepared to be a councillor sitting over here doing the hard [work]”.

Councillor Williamson began by saying the motion had “a snowflakes chance in hell that this will get up”.

“This is not about backing the yes or no case … the electors should at least be asked,” he said.

“…The electors will tell us yes or no … this is about being game enough to at least ask the question … at least we will know.”

Councillor Greg Clancy said he tended to agree with Cr Baker.

“There’s a lot to be said for the councillors electing the mayor – I do support grass roots democracy – but if we leave it up to electors, the most popular person in the view of the community may not necessarily be the person able to manage the council,” he said.

“I think the system works quite well at the moment.

“It would cost a fair bit of money to have this referendum.

“If it’s not broken you don’t need to fix it.”

Councillor Jason Kingsley said that Cr Lysaught’s “intentions were pure … and with the utmost respect to Cr Williamson … I’m all for democracy”.

“The problem for me is if it’s a ‘yes’, this could be fraught with some danger,” he said.

“…You could get any half-baked wood duck who comes along, puts up their hand, and it becomes a popularity contest.”

He said a popularly elected mayor might have little understanding of how local government works and “run on an unrealistic platform”.

“They could make promises to the community that they have no idea or understanding of the implications to council,” he said.

“For me this could really be fraught with danger, even though I respect and trust the community [and] that they would vote for who they thought would be the best leader.

“They could be duped into voting for someone who has no idea.”

Councillors currently elect the mayor to two-year terms.