It’s the big local government prize, the mayoralty. It comes with a $90,000-odd salary and a car, plus bounteous allowances, expenses and opportunities.
As well as these prizes come endless functions in and out of the municipality – very important for some mayoral aspirants. They provide opportunities to schmooze, to make contacts, to impress. Picture opportunities appear like swarms of djinns (genies, if you prefer) out of polished lamps. Budding politicians salivate at the thought.
So, not surprisingly, the lobbying started even before the new councillors’ names were known last Sunday night at the Victorian Electoral Commission’s Dromana bunker. By Tuesday, many phone calls had been made, cups of coffee drunk or scheduled and numbers were being counted.
One councillor was heard to remark early on Sunday night that the job was theirs pretty much by right.
Bandicoot has long espoused – in often robust debate – the rota method of selecting the mayor. That is, councillors take turns at the job, which is essentially ceremonial. This ensures that the prestige, the money, the car &c are fairly shared around the councillors and, more importantly, their wards.
In theory all 11 councillors, including the eight newly elected ones, could throw their hats in the ring to be mayor. Who knows? A few newbies may well be very impatient to wear the gold chain of office.
But they should heed the words of Shakespeare’s villain Macbeth, the Scottish warrior who was incited to overthrow his king but initially lacked the will to murder, and who warns himself of “vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls …”
That’s the painful fall that can happen each year in the lobbying to be mayor. Bandicoot recalls one aspirant – seeking a second near-successive term – left open-mouthed with shock when the votes that had been courted went elsewhere. The vision of gold was gone, like a pricked bubble.
When one discounts the chances of the eight new councillors (although Bandicoot can think of one or two, or even three, who might have a crack), one is left with the three who have been re-elected – Bev Colomb, Antonella Celi and Hugh Fraser.
Both Celi (Seawinds ward, 2013-14) and Colomb (Briars, ward, 2014-15, pictured right) have recently served in the office. Hugh Fraser has not been mayor and is, prima facie, the logical choice by rota.
Further, he would in Bandicoot’s view be a very good mayor – and he comes from Nepean ward, which last provided a mayor a decade ago in 2006-07, when the recently retired Tim Rodgers was elected to the position.
Of the other two contenders, the capable Cr Colomb also served as mayor the year after the then Cr Rodgers. From early in her recent term she was regularly harried and challenged by an often noisy, noisome and unruly claque of councillors, suddenly deprived of power after a long stint in command by the election of Tim Wood (retired, Red Hill ward), who in 2014 changed the balance of power away from the formerly dominant councillor group.
The previous year, 2013-14, Cr Celi had taken the chair and, after a cautious and promising start, grew into a confidence that unfortunately transmogrified into a strong tendency towards an assertive then a sometimes intolerant domination of the chamber.
Bandicoot vividly recalls one meeting at which a dissent motion was moved against one of mayor Celi’s rulings. She dismissed it with a wave of the hand, perhaps not understanding that few motions put to a meeting require more serious attention than one of dissent. Ironically, the motion was put by Cr Fraser, who is well versed in meeting procedure.
Cr Celi (left) has since then continued in this loud and assertive style, with frequent interjections and disruptive points of order. The style has become her trademark. She frequently gives the impression she is serving an apprenticeship, learning her trade, so as to move on to a political career at a higher stratum.
Who is Hugh Fraser? What are his qualifications to be mayor?
Elected to council in 2012, Cr Fraser has long experience in the law as a barrister (still active) in the arcane fields of commercial law, real securities, wills, estates and trusts. He graduated from Melbourne University with honours in international law, to which he added a Master of Laws from Monash University with a number of distinctions.
Cr Fraser would be the essential steady hand on the helm this council will require in the necessarily challenging initial year for a large group of councillors settling into their new role.
He has been instrumental in streamlining a number of council practices, overhauling meeting times and types – gone are the often-cancelled (for lack of agenda items) Development Assessment Committee meetings, their agendas merged with Ordinary Council meetings.
He also advocated successfully for council meeting times that enable working people to become councillors with minimum disruption to their jobs, and helped put a stop to most meetings formerly held in school holidays.
Cr Fraser has also brought his rather formidable legal mind, skills and experience to the wide range of subjects that councillors encounter. He brings a quiet, polite manner to the business at hand, occasionally putting officers through the hoops when questioning them.
The gallery can get occasional entertainment from watching as officers wonder which Fraser question might contain a booby trap. Occasionally he and the now plain Mr Tim Wood, QC, formerly a County Court judge, would engage in a discreet gang-tackle of an obdurate staff member or fellow councillor.
The shire mayor is often called on to meet businessmen, bureaucrats, politicians and others at all strata of society. These are milieux in which Cr Fraser has spent a great deal of time professionally and socially. Of all the years in which he could be mayor, this transitional period is perhaps the most appropriate for him to serve in the role.
The lobbying now occurring among those who aspire to wear the mayoral chain do not, in Bandicoot’s respectful estimation, come close to matching Cr Fraser’s suitability for the mayoral task. The Bandicoot’s adherence to the rota policy is small beer indeed when put alongside the other arguments for him to be chosen as mayor.
YOUR NEW COUNCILLORS
Bev Colomb (re-elected)
Antonella Celi (re-elected)
Hugh Fraser (re-elected)
RED HILL WARD