City of Rockingham council rejects changes to method for voting in mayor

Stuart HortonSound Telegraph
City of Rockingham council chambers.
Camera IconCity of Rockingham council chambers.

The method of voting to fill the office of mayor used by the City of Rockingham will not be altered after a notice of motion was defeated at last night’s council meeting.

Councillor Lee Downham presented the motion to change the method for electing the mayor from election by council to a popularly-elected vote from residents and said after 30 years it was “time for change”.

The City is one of 13 Perth metropolitan local governments with a councillor mayor, which sees the council body elect its leader every two years following local government elections; elector mayors, voted by residents, hold four-year terms.

Cr Downham said the City should give the electorate the chance to elect the person it wants to lead, however he received little support from fellow councillors.

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Cr Matthew Whitfield said while he thought the “way we do it is the right way to do it”, he pointed to the 17 Perth metropolitan local governments that popularly elect a mayor and the higher voter turn out in those councils as reason to support the motion.

“We want more people involved in local government elections and in those councils that allow residents to elect a mayor the voter turn out is 47 per cent compared to 29 per cent in Rockingham,” he said.

“Voter turnout increase is the most important thing, it’s important for people to be involved. The residents I have spoken to on this issue would overwhelmingly like to vote for the mayor.”

However, numerous councillors against the motion spoke of the dangers of “politicising” the office of mayor, council being in the best position to select a mayor, potential mayors being elected on a single issue and it attracting only those who could afford to run an election campaign.

“There have been a number of people to run for mayor in other councils who have spent considerable amounts and not been elected... it could politicise the role of mayor if they cannot raise the money and someone backs them,” Cr Deb Hamblin said.

City of Rockingham Mayor Barry Sammels has held office for 15 years.
Camera IconCity of Rockingham Mayor Barry Sammels has held office for 15 years.

Cr Joy Stewart added a popularly-elected mayor “may not have the support of the council” and there would be “no way to remove them” given they would hold a four-year term.

“The council should continue to elect the person, not have a person forced on them that they can’t work with,” she said.

“The Prime Minister and Premier are not popularly elected, why should the mayor be?”

Cr Leigh Liley said council electing its mayor every two years gave it the chance to “say yay or nay” on their performance, while Cr Chris Elliott said it was important the mayor “resonates with council”.

“The mayor doesn’t make decisions alone, the council does. Sound decision making makes Rockingham a leader in the State. This method works, it has worked for 30 years and it should continue,” he said.

Cr Katherine Summers said a council-elected mayor provided stability and questioned the motivation for the motion, which bristled Cr Downham who responded it was not politically-motivated as he was “stepping down at the next election”.

The motion was defeated 7/2, with Crs Downham and Whitfield only in favour of the change.

Barry Sammels is the longest serving mayor in the Perth metropolitan region, having held the position since 2003.

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