Liberal councillor Jess Diaz has accused the Labor Party of “gross negligence” in relation to the replacement of councillor Leo Kelly.
Cr Diaz said Labor was aware of Cr Kelly’s illness before the election and should have allowed for a countback, rather than the $300,000 by-election, in the “likely” event of his death.
A countback uses the results of the previous election, meaning the fourth most popular candidate would replace any vacancy.
Blacktown mayor Stephen Bali called the controversial claims “completely false” and a “shameless cop-out”.
Cr Diaz’s comments were in defence of his party’s shock decision not to field a candidate in the ward two by-election.
“The inconvenience to the residents and the fines for those who missed the compulsory voting could have been avoided if Labor put the interest of people first,” he said.
Cr Diaz accused Labor councillors of deliberately protecting their stronghold by not allowing for a countback, which would have seen Liberal candidate Joe Russo elected.
Cr Bali hit back at what he called “misleading” claims and a “disgraceful” attack, saying Cr Kelly’s cancer prognosis was good at the time of the election.
“He wouldn’t even have considered putting ratepayers at this expense; he was hopeful of a recovery,” Cr Bali said. The mayor also questioned Cr Diaz’s legal knowledge, saying that while the Local Government Act allows for a countback in principle, the state government has not yet tabled the specific regulations by which it could occur.
Cr Bali added that even if a countback was possible, he would not be in favour of it.
“Yes it [a by-election] costs money, but people die for democracy,” Cr Bali said. “It’s really important that democracy is always adhered to.
“We’re establishing a principle. Whatever we come up with is going to set the precedent for the future.”
Cr Bali said the only fair systems are a by-election, or another candidate selected by the party or group which vacated the seat.