Rockingham community to decide mayor at 2021 ballot

Chloe FraserSound Telegraph

After more than eight years of debate, City of Rockingham councillors have at last voted to let the community elect their mayor.

Currently, the 11 councillors vote among themselves to pick who will take on the role. The change, which came before the council at last week’s meeting, will be implemented in time for the October 2021 local government elections.

Councillors have debated changing the method of electing the mayor on three occasions in the past eight years.

Councillors Hayley Edwards and Sally Davies, who put forward the vote, said a popular election was “inevitable” and would allow the community a “democratic right” in electing its own leader.

Cr Edwards said the change would also enable the council to “refocus energy on the strategic performance of the City” and not “waste time and money” on a referendum.

Cr Matthew Whitfield said a direct election was a positive outcome for the community and could increase voter turnout.

Councillors Craig Buchanan, Lorna Buchan, Mark Jones and Rae Cottam also voted in support of the motion.

But deputy mayor Deb Hamblin said the role of mayor was “specific” and a popular election would “benefit financially resourced candidates”.

Cr Joy Stewart agreed, saying the change could see a candidate “with no experience in local government” elected as mayor.

Cr Leigh Liley said a popular election attached “more importance to the role of mayor than exists” and could lead to a “dysfunctional” local government and “friction on council”.

Already the longest-serving mayor in the metropolitan area, Barry Sammels’ reign as Rockingham mayor is set to reach two decades after councillors re-elected him for another two years in 2019.

Cr Sammels said it was too early to say if he would run for mayor or for his seat on council in 2021.

“As is the case with every election, I will decide in the months leading up to the election,” he said.

Kwinana Mayor Carol Adams was also re-elected by fellow councillors at last October’s election, continuing in the role for the 15th year.

Cr Adams said the City wanted to continue with “peer-elected mayor nominations”.

“No elected member, nor our community members, have raised this issue as a concern,” she said.

The two mayors are among 13 in Perth that are elected by councillors.

Local Government Minister David Templeman said he would have preferred to see decisions about how the mayor was elected made through a ratepayer referendum.

“Mayors, whether elected by the community through a popular vote or by the councillors, need to be able to work with all elected members and the administration in a constructive manner to deliver the best outcomes for the community,” Mr Templeman said.

“As we are seeing in the race for the Lord Mayor of Perth a significant amount of money is being spent.”

A recent City report found a referendum to decide whether or not to make the change would have cost about $250,000.

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