Opinion: Should council politics decide who’s mayor?

The community gets the right to vote on who’s the best person to run our country and state.

We also vote on who should represent us at local government level.

But in western and north-western Sydney, unless you live in The Hills or Hornsby council areas, we currently have no say on who's mayor.

Last month, Dr Michelle Byrne became The Hills’ first popularly elected mayor while former federal MP Philip Ruddock became Hornsby’s third. To have a popularly elected mayor, councils must first hold a plebiscite to find out what the residents want.

Cumberland councillor Ross Grove raised the matter in the former Holroyd chamber two years ago but didn’t have the support for it to go further. Things have since changed.

The impact council politics has had on recent mayoral elections raises the question of whether other councils should follow the lead of Hornsby and The Hills.

At Parramatta, the word on the street was that Labor’s Pierre Esber had the numbers to be lord mayor. But 11th hour campaigning saw Our Local Community independent Andrew Wilson claim victory. Two nights later at the new Cumberland Council, two Labor councillors went head to head. The caucus had appointed former Auburn councillor George Campbell. But Greg Cummings believed the inaugural mayor should be from the former Holroyd Council and with the support of the Liberals and independents, had the numbers, much to the chagrin of party colleagues.

I don’t question whether councillors Wilson and Cummings deserve their respective roles. Both are experienced councillors more than capable of representing their communities. But now that a mayor elected by the councillors holds office for a minimum two years under new local government reforms, it’s a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

In a recent Sun online poll, 58 per cent were in favour of both councils having popularly elected mayor, while 24.44 per cent were opposed. Another 7.78 per cent said yes for Parramatta, no to Cumberland while 6.67 per cent said yes for Cumberland, no for Parramatta. The remainder were undecided.

To everyone out there, you may be happy not having a popularly elected mayor. But you should at least be given the choice. Because the privilege to be mayor shouldn’t be about council politics or taking turns, it should be who's the best person for the job.

  • Kylie Stevens is a senior journalist in Sydney’s north-west region. 
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