Wingecarribee Shire mayoral election could breach Local Government Act

Councillors discussing the business agenda at an Ordinary Meeting of Council. Photo by Dominica Sanda
Councillors discussing the business agenda at an Ordinary Meeting of Council. Photo by Dominica Sanda

THE election of a new mayor and deputy mayor on Wednesday night may be invalid because of a breach of the Local Government Act (LGA).

The extraordinary meeting of council held for the mayoral election was scheduled to start at 5pm but did not begin until 5.25pm, with the public left waiting in the chambers and no councillors in sight.

In what later turned into an extraordinary unfolding of events, concern was raised about the legality of the meeting as it could have breached the LGA.

The Act states council must make publically available the agenda and business papers for the meeting at its offices. It must be available to the public as close as possible to the time it was made available to councillors, which was on Friday, September 11.

However, at 5pm on Wednesday, the agendas were still not on council's website and were only available in the chambers where the meeting was scheduled.

Councillors had three options: to go ahead with the election, to hold an emergency meeting today, or hold the election before the next council meeting on Wednesday, September 23.

Councillor Garry Turland put forward an amendment for the election to be held on Wednesday, September 23, but this was lost with Councillors Ian Scandrett, Juliet Arkwright, John Uliana, Jim Clark and Larry Whipper voting against it.

Cr Graham McLaughlin asked councillors why they would go through the election process and have the Office of Local Government (OLG) investigate, when councillors had the chance to postpone the meeting.

"Why would we do that when we have the opportunity to do it on Wednesday [September 23] without kerfuffle?" he said.

However, Crs Whipper, Clark and Arkwright said it was an "intended strategy" to postpone the election.

"There are five stages of grief, one is denial and that is well and truly in place in some councillors tonight," Cr Whipper said.

"There will be a sense of recovery, it does hurt at first, but the inevitable is the inevitable."

Instead, Cr Scandrett's motion to go ahead with the election was passed with Cr Turland voting against it. After the motion was passed Cr Turland left the chamber and said he wouldn't participate in an "illegal event".

Since then, the Southern Highland News has spoken to Cr Whipper about the possibility of the election being invalid.

Cr Whipper said he didn't believe it was invalid, but said it would be tested.

"The vote will remain the same irrespective of these attempts to frustrate and hijack the process of council," he said.

"I am not sure why there is such a chronic and biased campaign to interfere and manipulate this council and community."

An OLG spokesperson said council was required to make agenda and business papers publically available under the LGA.

"The OLG is aware of the concerns raised about the availability of the agenda and business papers for last night's meeting and has made contact with Wingecarribee Shire Council."