New Councillor Big Rob took to the floor of the Lismore Council chambers during the first council meeting (Tuesday 11, January) to repeatedly speak up about reducing the costs of council expenditure. As such it came as a surprise to many that Cr Rob then insisted that should a councillor resign and a casual vacancy be created in the next 18 months that a by-election rather than a ‘countback’ be held.
It is the first time that a ‘countback’ option has been made available to local councils by the State Government and is aimed at reducing the costs to ratepayers should a casual vacancy be created on the council. The process ‘uses preference data from ballot papers from the previous local government ordinary election’ and ‘uses the same proportional representation method used in the original election’, states the NSW Electoral Commission.
According to Lismore Council staff the recent council election cost ratepayers approximately $400,000 and a by-election would cost $50-60,000 ‘as a minimum’. As such the staff recommendation was to support a ‘countback’ rather than a by-election.
Speaking in support of a by-election Councillor Rob said ‘It’s a shortened term, I don’t think anyone’s leaving. And if something does happen, I think it should go back to the voters to decide instead of letting the preference deals that were done by everyone decide the outcome. Because I believe if it goes back to a countback… after the preferences have been run, I don’t think the results are in line with the way the community has voted. So I think let it go to a by-election.’
However, Councillor Ely Bird pointed out that it ‘is not always by personal choice’ for a councillor to resign. ‘We never know what might happen in an individual’s life that would prevent them from continuing to fulfil the role.’
Tweed for ‘countback’
The same decision on a ‘countback’ versus a by-election will be required by each local council at their first meeting. At the first Tweed Shire Council meeting, also on Tuesday, a ‘countback’ process was endorsed by all councillors.
Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry pointed out that ‘By-elections cost almost as much as full elections… It is an unreasonable cost to put on the ratepayers for a by-election.’
The high cost of a by-election was also highlighted at the Lismore Council meeting by councillor Adam Guise who told the meeting that ‘it’s a no brainer in my mind that we don’t go down the path of by-elections. The community does not like it. It’s a huge expense.
‘It’s a short council term, and it makes sense that a countback would be the best way to determine a “Casual Vacancy”,’ he said.
‘Councillor Rob talks about wanting to save costs here and there… Well be clear, council costs here would be just to do a countback and not do a by-election, because boy, they [by-elections] cost a lot of money. And I’d be saying [it would cost] more like a couple of hundred thousand because you’re talking about running the election again, for what? one or possibly two people who need to be reelected. So a countback makes total sense.’
Speaking to The Echo after the meeting Councillor Bird said ‘A by-election is a costly process for Council and for the community that can easily be avoided and the only reason I can see to make that decision is that there is either a misunderstanding of the countback process or a concern that a countback would result in a shift in the numbers and a Councillor with a different political position to the majority joining the Chamber.’
However, the new councillors Mayor Steve Krieg, Deputy Mayor Peter Colby, Big Rob, Andrew Bing, Jeri Hall, Electra Jensen and Andrew Gordon voted to support the motion for a by-election over a ‘countback’ with councillors Elly Bird, Darlene Cook, Vanessa Ekins, and Adam Guise voting against ensuring that a by-election will be run in Lismore local government area should a councillor resign.