Ballina local government residents won’t know the exact makeup of their new council until next week, when preferences are distributed, but the general shape is looking clearer.
At this stage, Sharon Cadwallader is a very firm favourite for mayor, with over 10,000 first preference votes (almost 38%). That means she is set to be joined on council by at least one of her team members, likely Rod Bruem, who is also a Paradise FM announcer. Both these candidates ran as independents, despite their previous ties to the National Party.
Independent Councillor Jeff Johnson (formerly a Green) also polled very well in the mayoral race, with over 24% of first preference votes, but is unlikely to have the numbers to challenge Cr Cadwallader for mayor at this stage.
The ward system in Ballina means there are three mini-elections, not just one, with each ward electing three councillors (total council size is ten, including the mayor, who has a casting vote when decisions are tied).
With three of the most high profile candidates in the same ward, the ALP’s Keith Williams (and outgoing Chair of Rous County Council) is trailing both in the council and mayor vote (he got over 15% first preference votes in that poll).
With just over half a quota at this stage in Ward B, Cr Williams appears likely to lose his position on council entirely unless Jeff Johnson can overhaul Sharon Cadwallader in that ward, which seems highly unlikely at this stage.
Cr Jeff Johnson very nearly has the numbers to return to Ward B as a councillor without preferences, and preferences will determine other possible councillors including Greens newcomer Kiri Dicker (over 16% of first preference votes) and the Cadwallader Team’s Eva Ramsey (4.09% first preferences).
In Ward A, no one currently has a quota to be elected on first preferences, but current councillors Phil Meehan and Steve McCarthy are polling best after Rod Bruem, each with around two thirds of a quota.
In Ward C, Cr Eoin Johnston has more than one and a half quotas in his own right, having campaigned on the water issue around Alstonville, and the Greens’ Simon Chate gained almost an entire quota in his first tilt at council, with over 21% of first preference votes. Preferences will determine the spoils among the five candidates there.
Informal votes for mayor in Ballina were low (under 4%), and between 6-10% across the three wards in votes for council.
The Australian Electoral Commission will announce mayors across the state on Monday next week, and councillors on Wednesday.
Due to COVID impacts in recent years, this term of local government will be short, only two and a half years, so councillors will not have long to deliver on their promises (or learn the ropes in the case of new councillors) before the next election rolls around.