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.

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.

Under new local government reforms, a mayor elected by the councillors now holds office for two years, so it’s something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

At Parramatta, the word was 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.

Party politics has previously decided the mayoral election at Blacktown. In 2014, the Liberals had the power with the support of independent Russ Dickens. After a two year stint, Len Robinson stepped down as mayor. On the night, it was assumed Jess Diaz would become the next mayor. Journalists had the Facebook posts written, just waiting for confirmation. One Liberal didn’t agree and anonymously gave their vote to Labor’s Stephen Bali. Not only has Cr Bali been mayor ever since, but is priced at $1.02 by Sportsbet to become the new Blacktown MP in this Saturday's by-election.

To everyone in the Blacktown LGA, you may be satisfied with 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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