Shire chief defends changes to wards
Shire chief executive Gary Evershed has defended abolishment of the Shire’s wards system ahead of this year’s local government election, saying growth in the region during the past eight years triggered the need for change.
Councillors narrowly voted to support the chief executive’s recommendation to remove wards a fortnight ago, despite contention about the move and observations from Leeuwin ward councillors that abolishing wards was a backflip on his advice from the 2009 wards review.
During last fortnight’s debate, Augusta-based councillors Mike Smart and Kim Hastie said the review was riddled with “bias and inconsistencies” and intended to eliminate wards for political reasons.
The long-running tensions between Mr Evershed and Cr Smart in particular, as well as historic claims of the Shire’s lack of support for Augusta, underscored the debate.
The 2009 ward review report removed a “no-wards option ... due to the perceived need for local representation and the differing communities of interest in various locations such as Augusta and Margaret River and Cowaramup”.
Mr Evershed told the Times his recommendation was reversed because of population growth which meant it was no longer possible to keep adjusting boundaries to account for shifting demographics.
“I have done a very conscientious and diligent assessment of the issues and presented a compelling argument for the ‘ no wards’ option which was adopted by council,” he said.
“The no-ward system is the fairest system given the changing demographics on the basis of one vote, one value, and of fairly representing diverse communities of interest.”
The wards review found Mar- garet River and Cowaramup’s faster rate of growth was creating inequities for councillor representation and “the inequitable councillor-to-elector ratios will only worsen in future years”.
“Residents in the Margaret River ward are increasingly being under-represented per capita compared to their counterparts in the Leeuwin ward,” the report said.
Mr Evershed said Leeuwin ward had otherwise faced a boundary readjustment bringing it to within 5km of Margaret River’s town centre to make numbers fit.
The January 25 meeting also heard other review options would force sitting councillors Ian Earl and Kylie Kennaugh to compete for the same seat if wards were not removed.
This week, Shire president Ian Earl said the ongoing debate around the decision was ridiculous. The wards review requires ratification by the Local Government Minister.