VOTERS will continue to be denied a role in electing Bayswater’s mayor.
The council has stuck with its in-house method of councillors choosing their leader, with fears a popularly elected mayor will usher in party politics and expensive campaigns.
Mayor Dan Bull, elected to the spot by a majority of fellow councillors after both the 2017 and then 2019 election, suggested they switch to a popularly elected mayor at the October 27 council meeting.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that it is more democratic to have a directly elected mayor, a publicly elected mayor, than to have a mayor that’s elected by council,” he said.
His desire to switch was prompted by observing other local governments and by a recent review of the “ward” system: He brought it up as they discussed resident feedback about wards, which divide the city into several electorates (that will stay).
He said candidates were rarely asked during elections who they’d support as mayor, and that means “the public have very minimal ability to influence the outcome of who the spokesperson and the face of their local government is”. He said letting them elect a mayor puts “more power, more democratic power into the hands of the people that we represent”.
Cr Elli Petersen-Pik is not a fan of a popularly-elected mayor and didn’t think they should switch without consulting the public. “It sounds good, it sounds very democratic,” he told colleagues, but then said “after being on council for three years now I can see the many disadvantages.”
He was concerned a popularly-elected mayoral process “would be highly political. There’s already involvement of political parties in the local government elections. As an independent candidate I felt it, I experienced it. It was not fun. Connections were used, money was there, MPs were involved. Lists of members of political parties were used as well to influence elections. That will be nothing compared to the involvement of political parties if the mayor would be directly elected. Only people with money and political power and donations will have the chance to be mayor and I’m against that.”
He said councillors are democratically elected and choosing a mayor is one of their tasks as representatives, “so from my perspective the current system is democratic and sufficient”.
He says councillors know “who will be the mayor who’ll listen to the needs of the community and not just focus mainly on promoting themselves for personal gains or in preparation for the next mayoral election”.
Fellow south ward councillor Catherine Ehrhardt, while supporting the concept of a directly-elected mayor, voted against the making the switch now because they hadn’t yet asked for community input.
She commenced her speech against the motion saying “I’d like to start by congratulating lord mayor Basil Zempilas,” who was popularly elected, prompting a light chuckle from the room.
“What I am really struggling with here is the lack of consultation with our community as to how their mayor is elected… The changes being presented here with no notice, no prior discussion, and no consultation, have the potential to directly impact on the democratic representation of all residents and ratepayers in the whole City of Bayswater. Before we embark on such a course, we need to be very careful to consult with those most affected.”
by DAVID BELL