Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A vulnerable Richie Williamson seeks to shore up support for his mayoral position and future political ambitions?

Clarence Valley Mayor Richie Williamson decided to spring a last minute surprise on his fellow councillors, residents and ratepayers with a mayoral minute not included in the ordinary monthly meeting business paper for 18 November 2014.

However, on the same day he informed councillors of his intention The Daily Examiner also appears to have become aware and published this on its front page the next day:
CLARENCE Valley Council Mayor Richie Williamson wants to give ratepayers the chance to say if they want a popularly elected mayor.
Cr Williamson will table a Mayoral Minute at tonight's council meeting calling for the council to take the question to a referendum early next year.
The referendum could be held in conjunction with a by-election to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Councillor Jeremy Challacombe in a car accident late last month.
The council will ask the NSW Electoral Commission to set the date for the by-election as February 21.
Cr Williamson's Mayoral Minute recommends taking the following question to the voters:
"The Mayor of Clarence Valley Council is currently elected each year by the Councillors.
"Do you favour the election of the Mayor by the electors for a four-year term and without changing the number of councillors from nine, including the Mayor?"
According to Cr Williamson, the option of having a popularly elected mayor is regularly raised with him by ratepayers.
"I haven't gone into the points for and against in the Mayoral Minute because this really is a decision of the people," he said.
"Now is an opportunity for the question to be asked.
"The council should never be afraid of asking residents and ratepayers their views on important issues."
Cr Williamson would not be drawn on his preference.
The Mayoral Minute estimates the cost of the referendum in conjunction with the by-election at $16,000.
The estimated cost of the by-election itself is $160,000.

Mayor Williamson tells us that he is merely responding to the wishes of ratepayers.

One would think if that were really the case these wishes would be reflected in numerous letters to the editor since September 2004. A search of local newspaper records show few mentions of a desire to directly elect a mayor for a four-year term.

Indeed the only prominent proponents of changing how a Clarence Valley mayor is currently elected have been the present NSW Nationals MP for Clarence Chris Gulaptis and former Nationals pre-selection candidate Mayor Richie Williamson himself.

Then Cr. Chris Gulaptis was quoted in the media as he faced losing his bid to become Clarence Valley mayor in 2006:

Councillor Chris Gulaptis said he thought he would lose the challenge because councillors, not ratepayers, vote for the mayor.
He says he would have a better chance if the election were done by popular vote.
"I haven't been lobbying," he said.
"I think there has been some lobbying done and I think it's successful, more successful from the other candidate, and I think that I will probably come second again.
"However, I'm putting my hand up and saying I'm not happy with the way things are going.

While Richie Williamson has been unsuccessfully attempting to convince his fellow councillors to change mayoral election rules since at least 2011:

Item: 13.236/11
(Crs Williamson/Comben)
In accordance with S16 (b) of the Local Government Act 1993, Council conduct a
constitutional referendum at the 2012 NSW quadrennial local government election so as to allow the electors of Clarence Valley to determine the basis on which the Mayor attains office that is, by election by the Councillors or by election by the electors.
Voting recorded as follows:
For: Councillors Williamson, Comben, Howe and Hughes
Against: Councillors Tiley, Toms, Simmons, McKenna and Dinham
The motion was LOST…..
If Council resolves to hold a constitutional referendum the General Manager must advise the Electoral Commissioner with 21 days.
The required explanatory material, which must be prepared and publicised at the cost of Council, must be based on a balanced case for and against the proposition.
The Local Government Act provides that the decision made at a constitutional referendum binds the council until changed by a subsequent constitutional referendum. If a referendum resulted in a change to direct election of the mayor, that change would not take effect until the 2016 Council election.

Lower Clarence opinion seems to be mainly split between those who believe that Williamson is pushing for mayoral election by popular vote because winning the office in that manner would convince potential backers to support him when he next takes aim at a state or federal seat and, those who believe that having come close to losing the mayoral election last September he needs the guarantee of a four-year term by 2016 if he is to hold off future contenders.

The timing of this mayoral minute hasn’t escaped the eagle eyes of valley residents either – the fact that there are only eight councillors at present means that it is more likely that Mayor Williamson will be able to use his casting vote in favour of his own self-interest should there be a voting tie when the motion comes before council this afternoon.


A valley resident asked me if I knew when Clarence Valley councillors became aware of Mayor Williamson's intention to put forward the motion seeking a referendum.

I cannot say exactly. However I believe it may have been shortly after the document was created on 17 November 2014 at 1:12:49pm (see snapshot below) and sent to councillors later that afternoon.

As for when the document became available online at council's website - all I can say is that I was not aware of it being published on the Internet until just before 9pm on 17 November 2014.


On the afternoon of 18 November 2014 Clarence Valley Mayor Richie Williamson took advantage of the fact that there were only eight councillors at the ordinary monthly meeting (due to the recent death of the ninth councillor) and, forced through ITEM 10.010/14 PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM - CHANGING THE BASIS ON WHICH THE MAYOR ATTAINS OFFICE TO ELECTION BY THE ELECTORS by using his casting vote to endorse his personal preference for a referendum vote on establishing a popularly elected mayor serving a four-year term.


Anonymous said...

Unless some councillor is absent, it is currently hard to imagine a situation where there is a casting vote when we have only 8 councillors Clarence Girl?

But yes, reeks of opportunism, the current Mayor no longer seems to have the numbers guaranteed to keep his job so wants to change the system to ensure he has the numbers.

As for the cost of electing a replacement councillor, it's obscene, surely we can survive with 8 until the next election? After all, they do very little.

clarencegirl said...

The mayor has a vote as an ordinary councillor which he regularly exercises.
It only needs for the vote to be 4:4 for the mayor's additional casting vote to come into play.

Innocent Bystander said...

The mayor's use of the casting vote says it all. Nothing beats self interest!
Given his apparent benefit from the tied vote he should have put his casting vote against the proposal and maintained the status quo.
This Innocent Bystander reckons its was a pretty gutless effort.

Anonymous said...

Shame Mayor, shame!

At least now I'll be motivated to vote at the bi-election just to vote NO.