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Byron Shire
November 30, 2021

Editorial – A potted history of local elections

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The election of the Byron Shire mayor and councillors on December 4 will be the ninth such poll this newspaper has covered.

In the first of these, in 1988, voters installed Cr Oliver Dunne as Mayor in a bid to rescue our local government, following a two-year period in which planning powers were removed from Council and exercised by a State administrator.

When The Echo began reporting on these matters in 1986, there was widespread dismay about the performance of Council staff, particularly the Shire Engineer and the Shire Clerk.

There were allegations of feather-bedding and malpractice. Public meetings called for an administrator to be brought in, and the Country Party was agitating for the Shire to be amalgamated with Tweed or Lismore.

In retrospect, these upheavals coincided with a generational change, when young voters residing in the new communities of the hills and the beaches were not prepared to tolerate a local Council conducted by business networks and shrouded in secrecy.

Turmoil in Council affairs is therefore nothing new – and reached an even lower ebb in the mid-nineties under a rogue general manager – so we won’t pretend that the election facing us on Saturday week is a make-or-break historical moment for the people of this Shire.

Matters are not as bad as they were in 1986 or 1996.

Progress has been made on many infrastructure fronts, and unlike the crises of the past, Council is not critically short of money, thanks to the huge increase in rates we have endured over the last four years.

It’s true that we have had a cycle of councillors who listen more to the staff than the residents, but that is a perennial problem.

Most of the current councillors have offered themselves for re-election, and a few of them deserve another go, if only because it takes a while to become familiar with local government processes and pitfalls, and such experience is valuable.

Needless to say, some councillors never do become comfortable in the hot seat, and for mercy’s sake we should not re-elect them.

If you wish to be specific in your judgement of how the last set of councillors performed, it is better to vote for individuals below the line rather than number whole groups above the line, whose members vary tremendously in ability.

For example, the Greens group contains only one current councillor, Sarah Ndiaye, whereas all the others on that ticket are formidable achievers, whose CVs include past stints in Council and State parliament.

The Byron Independents group contains two current councillors, Jeanette Martin and interim Mayor Michael Lyon, who both broke with the Greens.

Cr Lyon quit owing to a lack of support within the party, and Cr Martin soon joined him.

When it comes to voting for the mayor, it is amusing to note that some of the candidates appear to be huddling together in fear of the Greens’ nominee Duncan Dey.

They have made ludicrous criticisms of his quiet leadership style, as if what we need is another showboat mayor.

Each voter will decide according to their level of information, personal philosophy and past experience.

On the mayoral ballot, you should make that choice and vote ‘1’ for the candidate you support.

There is no requirement to number further boxes.

Looking back over the eight Councils The Echo has covered, one can say that little changes over the years.

Councillors have less power than electors think, and huge State and economic forces decide most issues.

We should count ourselves lucky when we elect honest men and women who are dedicated to public service, rather than career prospects or ego boosting.

And if those criteria eliminate a fair swathe of candidates, then that also is nothing new.

News tips are welcome: [email protected]

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