First steps taken to elect mayor

Chloe FraserSound Telegraph
Mayor Barry Sammels.
Camera IconMayor Barry Sammels. Credit: WA News, Ian Munro.

A referendum into whether the City of Rockingham mayor should be popularly elected could be on the cards.

The council last week voted unanimously in favour of costing the public vote after newly elected councillor Craig Buchanan followed through on his election commitment and put forward a motion.

The way in which the top job is decided was a major topic of conversation for residents and candidates during October’s council election campaign.

Cr Buchanan was one of three successful candidates, including councillors Rae Cottam and Lorna Buchan, appointed following their pledges to campaign for a community-elected leader.

Cr Buchanan said a number of votes had been held within the council on this issue in recent years, but none appeared to have “satisfied the public appetite”.

“Arguably the best way to break through this log jam is to put the question directly to the ratepayers of Rockingham as a whole, and to abide by their decision,” he said.

“If we don't ask, we will never know, and are doomed to keep revisiting this question over and over again.”

He said the motion did not approve a referendum in itself, but was a preliminary step in providing an “informed” decision by council.

Councillor Craig Buchanan.
Camera IconCouncillor Craig Buchanan. Credit: Supplied.

A report will be provided back to the council by February 2020.

Rockingham is one of 13 Perth metropolitan councils with a councillor-elected mayor, meaning the council body elects its leader every two years.

Barry Sammels’ reign as Rockingham mayor extended into its 18th year in 2019 with the new council again putting their faith in him to continue leading the City.

An officers report said council had considered changing the method of electing the mayor on three occasions in the past eight years, including in November 2018, August 2011 and February 2006, but on each occasion the council voted to “retain the status quo”.

A petition seeking to change the method of filling the office of mayor was also previously put to the council in June by former Rockingham councillor Mal McFetridge, who said there was “overwhelming positive support” for the change.

While the petition was signed by 321 people, councillors reaffirmed their desire to elect the mayor and said a popular vote could “politicise” the office of mayor and create instability.

At the June meeting Cr Leigh Liley raised concerns that a popularly elected mayor could attract mayoral aspirants with “little knowledge of local government policies”, and them being elected for a four-year term.

But Cr Buchanan’s motion to investigate the financial implications of a referendum was supported by City officers who said with five new councillors of the 11 member council it would be “prudent” to undertake preliminary research.

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