City of Rockingham councillors have reaffirmed their desire to elect the mayor, saying a push for a popularly elected leader could lead to instability.
A petition seeking to change the method of filling the office of mayor was put forward by former Rockingham councillor Mal McFetridge, and debated at last week’s council meeting.
Mr McFetridge said the system should be changed because enough electors wanted a role in being able to elect their community leader.
The petition was signed by 321 people.
However, councillors said changing the method of electing the mayor could lead to the politicisation of campaigns, as well as instability on the council. Cr Leigh Liley said the risks of a popularly elected mayor included attracting mayoral aspirants with little knowledge of local government policies, and them being elected for a four year term.
“There are very legitimate concerns about this topic,” she said.
“Elected councils should elect their leader and not have one imposed on them. The people who will be working alongside the mayor should decide.
“They need to know they can work together.”
The politicisation of campaigns was another issue raised by councillors, with some saying money spent on campaigns could leave those wanting to serve the community out of the running purely based on a lack of financial support.
“I’ve known of candidates in other councils spending $80,000 on campaigns,” Cr Deb Hamblin said. “We want to keep local government available for all community members and want everyone to be able to participate, not just those who can afford it.”
Cr Chris Elliott said it was “essential” the mayor and councillors were on the same page and could work together.
“If the mayor does not mesh with the ideas of councillors it could lead to instability,” he said. “Since 1986 there have been five mayors leading Rockingham … I think it would be an absolute mistake to change elections.”
Mr McFetridge, who runs a Community Elected Mayor Facebook page, previously told the Sound Telegraph he believed “90 per cent of the population” supported electing a mayor by popular vote.
However, during the council meeting, Cr Andrew Burns said the idea that people should be electing the mayor because they had authority was “fundamental flawed”.
“Councils should have the right to elect their spokesperson as a system, it’s the best one we’ve got,” he said.
Mayor Barry Sammels is the longest-serving mayor in the metropolitan region, having held his position since 2003.
Councillors acknowledged following this October’s local government elections there could be up to six new councillors, and they may decide to reconsider the matter.
Due to Crs Matthew Whitfield and Lee Downham not being present, it was debated whether or not to defer the item until the next meeting to allow for a full council vote.
Crs Mark Jones and Joy Stewart supported the matter being deferred until the July council meeting, however the remaining six councillors voted against that motion, acknowledging most meetings this year had seen at least one councillor absent.