Swearing-in may face two-week delay

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Newly elected Red Hill ward councillor Tim Wood may not be able to begin his duties until 8 September, despite Local Government Minister Tim Bull advising there was “no impediment” to him being sworn in on Monday 25 August and beginning work at that evening’s council meeting.

Red Hill ward has effectively been unrepresented since last December, when former ward councillor Frank Martin fell ill and took extended sick leave. He resigned in May.

According to Cr Hugh Fraser, “Management has fixed the taking of the Oath by the person declared elected for Red Hill Ward as an item of Council business for its Monday, 8 September, 2014 Ordinary Council Meeting”.

In a Notice of Motion to be discussed at the 25 August meeting, Cr Fraser sought to have “the person declared elected as the Councillor for the Red Hill Ward … take the Oath of Office … [as] the first or such other item of business as the Council determines …”

The election result was known soon after 8pm on Saturday, 23 August, councillor-elect Wood gaining 4446 votes – nearly 55 per cent – after distribution of preferences followed by Mark Fancett (3669 votes, 45.2 per cent) and Tim Treadwell (2217 votes, 27.3 per cent).

The formal declaration of the poll was scheduled for 10am on Monday at the Rosebud shire offices.

Once that occurs, “there is no legal impediment to [the winner] being sworn by the CEO Dr Michael Kennedy OAM as required by section 63, Local Government Act 1989, and taking his or her seat at the Council Meeting on Monday evening”, Cr Fraser, a barrister, said.

The response from Minister Bull came last week during a late sitting of State Parliament. Asked if Red Hill ward’s new councillor could take his or her place in time for Monday’s meeting, Mr Bull responded that no legal impediment prevented this from occurring.

No meeting is scheduled for Monday 1 September, meaning 8 September would be the next opportunity to install the new councillor. Many in the ward are anxious for representation as soon as possible after nearly nine months of being effectively disenfranchised.

Dr Kennedy is known to favour inducting new councillors over a week or more, with comprehensive explanations of their responsibilities as councillors and warnings against the pitfalls and traps of the job and the sometimes heavy penalties that councillors can incur for breaches of the Local Government Act.

The last councillor to win a shire byelection was current mayor Cr Antonella Celi, who was elected to the old Truemans ward in 2010.

Ms Celi was elected on 17 July. She was sworn in at the next council meeting, held on 26 July, declaring it “an honour and a privilege” to be a councillor, thanking her fellow councillors “for their warm welcome and helpfulness”, and concluding by calling for “three cheers for the Truemans Ward!!”

With the chamber occasionally deadlocked 5-all at recent meetings, she has had to use her casting vote a number of times. Swearing in of the Red Hill ward councillor will relieve her of that responsibility.

Cr Fraser’s notice of motion had a rocky introduction to the shire website. Circulated on Wednesday 20 August, it first appeared the previous morning. It then disappeared early on Thursday and was reinstated on Thursday afternoon.

This election could mark a new era in shire history in a number of ways. Perhaps depressingly, at least for aspirants in single-member wards, it is clear from this poll that expensive mail-outs to all voters is becoming a necessary strategy.

Mr Wood sent letters to all 12,509 voters, some one-third of whom are not permanent ward residents. Mark Fancett and Michael Treadwell also did mail-outs, but culled the voter list for off-peninsula voters to reduce the number of letters and thus the cost. The table shows how this could have influenced voters: the vote for fourth placegetter Neale Adams was substantially below Treadwell’s.

It is likely future candidates will need to establish a war chest of $10,000 to $15,000 to ensure they reach the entire electorate.

The Victorian Electoral Commission received 8115 valid votes. Informals numbered 569, coming in sixth behind Kerry Watson.

Scrutineers reported that the donkey vote – where voters mark their paper 1 to 17 sequentially up or down – were rare and that some voters, apparently taking their allocation of preferences seriously, mis-numbered papers, possibly because they referred to more than one candidate’s how to vote card.

Several other factors stand out:
– The green vote was strong, with Neale Adams coming fourth and state election Greens candidate Rose Ljubicic seventh;
– Non-ward residents such as Leigh Coleman, Leigh Eustace, Bryan Payne and Brian Morgan scored only a few hundred votes between them. Eustace, a former councillor, polled poorly and was heavily disadvantaged by preference allocations, as occurred when he was defeated in Briars ward in 2012.
– Overall it can be argued that Red Hill ward, disenfranchised for so long, expressed frustration with the shire, judging by the number of candidates who nominated and the policies they espoused and by the candidate they ultimately backed.

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