A bitter row has erupted among Tweed shire council’s majority progressive faction on the eve of today’s crucial vote for mayor at which Cr Barry Longland’s three-year term in the role looks set to end.
Cr Longland, whose vote is expected to be decisive, has been accused by his factional colleagues of dishonouring an agreement he made two years ago to share the role each of the four years of the current council’s term.
But Cr Longland is staying put, telling media the position of the mayor was ‘not a play thing to be passed around’.
His refusal to honour the so-called deal has sparked a challenge by Cr Gary Bagnall which will be played out later today.
And yesterday, Cr Longland dropped a bombshell on his factional colleagues by telling them he would not vote for Cr Bagnall, leaving veteran National Party Cr Warren Polglase, who leads the pro-development faction, the only other choice.
Cr Bagnall told Echonetdaily last night that if Cr Polglase, a former mayor, was elected mayor on the back of Cr Longland’s vote, it would ‘be on his head’ and that he’d be ‘letting down the whole shire’.
Cr Longland has been tight-lipped about the issue for weeks, refusing to comment to media after Echonetdaily revealed the so-called agreement and that Cr Bagnall would nominate for the top job today.
Deputy mayor Michael Armstrong confirmed the agreement was made to share the position and that he would be honouring that agreement.
Cr Armstrong said Cr Longland had ‘done a great job as mayor’, but he would not be backing him for another term.
The progressive faction in the seven-member council is made up of Crs Bagnall and Longland (both unaligned to any political party), Cr Armstrong (Labor) and Cr Katie Milne (Greens).
Cr Bagnall said they had agreed to share the mayoralty when it won a slim majority at the 2012 council election, but Cr Longland was voted in for a further term last September in a bid to clear his name after the controversy surrounding the sacking of former general manager David Keenan.
The row over the top job is reminiscent of the famous ‘Kirribilli agreement’ between former prime minister Bob Hawke and his deputy Paul Keating in 1988.
Mr Hawke broke the confidential agreement for a behind-the-scenes handover of power after a set term, sparking a challenge by Mr Keating who then won the leadership.
Cr Bagnall, elected in 2012, says he has the support of Crs Armstrong and Milne for today’s ballot during the extraordinary meeting starting at 4.45pm.
Cr Polglase, a former mayor, is also expected to nominate for the job and set to be backed by his two conservative allies, Crs Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne.
If Cr Longland does not get a seconder for his nomination, it would put him in the kingmaker’s role, as his vote in a 3-3 split between Crs Bagnall and Polglase would be decisive.
Cr Bagnall launched a scathing attack on his erstwhile factional ally on the eve of today’s vote.
‘Cr Longland has told the three of us he won’t support me, he’s blaming me and the media for stirring things up but he’s grasping at straws and making excuses as to why he won’t vote for me,’ he said.
‘He just doesn’t want to lose his job, but the community needs to know that their fate is in his hands.
‘The reality is he’s pulled out of an agreement to share the shire leadership which proves his word is not good. At least we know where Cr Polglase stands and what he votes for.
‘We stand for the community and the environment, they’re the values the people wanted. But Cr Polglase doesn’t always put the community or environment first, but developers and their profits.
‘They also need to know that Cr Longland would be voting for a return to the “bad old days” with a pro-development councillor at the helm,’ Cr Bagnall said.
(Cr Polglase and the council he led as mayor was sacked by the state government in 2005 after an inquiry found the pro-development faction in control of council at the time were ‘puppets of developers’ and that developers had organised a war ches’ of hundreds of thousands of dollars to bankroll pro-development candidates.)
‘Cr Polglase is known as the developers’ friend, he votes against the environment. This is who Barry is climbing in bed with, he’ll be voting against the wishes of the community if he backs Warren,’ Cr Bagnall said.
Cr Longland told APN Media this week that he would ‘continue to engage with my colleagues over the coming days about what is best for the year ahead and to provide confidence to our residents and staff that council will continue to move “together forward” as our motto states’.
He also said ‘the position of the mayor is not a play thing to be passed around’.
Cr Armstrong told APN Media that Cr Bagnall ‘is a successful small businessperson who has the ability to identify opportunities that would benefit the Tweed Shire’ and who ‘also has a strong commitment to the environment and promoting sustainable outcomes’.
The mayors of Byron, Ballina, Lismore and Richmond Valley are elected by ratepayers in a popular vote for a four-year term, while Tweed and Kyogle councillors vote for the mayor every 12 months.
The Tweed mayoralty job comes with a $50,000-plus salary package, while councillors are paid around $15,000 a year.