No change to mayoral vote
The method of voting to fill the office of mayor used by the City of Rockingham will not be altered after a notice of motion was defeated at last week’s council meeting.
Cr Lee Downham proposed changing the method for electing the mayor from election by the council to a popular vote by residents and said after 30 years it was “time for change”.
The City is one of 13 Perth metropolitan local governments with a councillor mayor, meaning the council body elects its leader every two years after local government elections. Popularly elected mayors, voted in by residents, hold a four-year term.
Cr Downham said the City should give the people the chance to choose the person they wanted to lead, but he received little support from fellow councillors.
Cr Matthew Whitfield said while he thought the “way we do it is the right way to do it”, he pointed to the 17 Perth metropolitan local governments that popularly elect a mayor and the higher voter turnout in those areas as a reason to support the motion.
“We want more people involved in local government elections and in those councils that allow residents to elect a mayor the voter turnout is 47 per cent compared to 29 per cent in Rockingham,” he said.
“Voter turnout increase is the most important thing, it’s important for people to be involved.
“The residents I have spoken to on this issue would overwhelmingly like to vote for the mayor.”
Councillors against the motion spoke of the dangers of “politicising” the office of mayor; the council being best-placed to elect a mayor; potential mayors being elected on a single issue; and the move attracting only those who could afford to run an election campaign.
“There have been a number of people to run for mayor in other councils who have spent considerable amounts and not been elected . . . it could politicise the role of mayor if they cannot raise the money and someone backs them,” Cr Deb Hamblin said.
Cr Joy Stewart said a popularly elected mayor “may not have the support of the council” and there would be no way to remove them given they would hold a four-year term.
“The council should continue to elect the person, not have a person forced on them,” she said.
Cr Leigh Liley said the council electing the mayor every two years gave it the chance to “say yay or nay” on performance, while Cr Chris Elliott said it was important
the mayor “resonates with council”. “The mayor doesn’t make decisions alone, the council does,” he said.
“Sound decision-making makes Rockingham a leader in the State.
“This method has worked for 30 years and it should continue.”
Cr Katherine Summers said a council-elected mayor provided stability, and questioned the motivation for the motion, which bristled Cr Downham into responding it was not a politically motivated motion because he was “stepping down at the next election”.
The motion was defeated 7-2, with only Crs Downham and Whitfield in favour of change.
Rockingham’s Barry Sammels is the longest-serving mayor in the metropolitan region, having held his position since 2003.