MARGARET O’Rourke was installed as mayor for an historic third term this week, but in the end, her election came down to chance.
In the final round of voting, the piece of paper containing Cr O’Rourke’s name was pulled out of the ballot box, ahead of fellow mayoral aspirant, Whipstick ward councillor Andrea Metcalf.
Chief executive Craig Niemann’s selection of the other piece of paper at last Monday’s election would have resulted in a change of mayor.
The Bendigo Weekly can reveal voting at the mayoral election was conducted over many rounds at the end of which votes for Cr O’Rourke and Cr Metcalf were tied, four each.
There are nine councillors able to vote, but George Flack excused himself from voting in the process.
Cr Flack declared a conflict of interest because he employs Cr Metcalf in his business outside of council.
Mr Craig Niemann yesterday confirmed the order of events, but he declined to name the councillors involved.
He said the process of electing mayor had been in place for as long as he had been at the council and probably before that.
“We have a process in place that is agreed to by all the councillors at the start so that helps clarify that if things go certain ways, then we have a process to follow up rather than just making it up on the run,” Mr Niemann said yesterday.
“There are obviously people who are disappointed when they don’t become mayor, but it is great that there are four councillors interested in wanting to become mayor, that is very healthy.”
He said the election process started the week before the actual vote, when councillors were invited to nominate their interest in becoming either mayor or deputy mayor.
“We invite them to make a presentation to the rest of the councillors and we invite questions from other councillors,” Mr Niemann said.
“We did that two weeks ago, and let it sit for a week.”
At the election, director for corporate performance Andrew Cooney was present and responsible for governance and Mr Niemann was appointed the returning officer.
At this point, councillors declared any conflict of interest and abstained from voting.
Voting is by secret ballot and if no councillor has a majority, the councillor with the least votes is eliminated.
Rounds of voting continued at last week’s vote until Cr O’Rourke and Cr Metcalf emerged as the last two contenders.
“There was a vote, there was equal number of votes, we asked them to vote again… equal number of votes and then we go through a process of putting the two names in the ballot box, and I draw a name from the ballot box as the person who will be mayor-elect,” Mr Niemann said.
“We don’t say publicly who comes second, third or fourth.”
At a media conference after the election, mayor-elect Margaret O’Rourke said she wanted to see the completion of projects started since 2016. She had campaigned on the platform of continuity for council.
She also included waste as an issue that needed addressing in the coming years, an issue Cr Metcalf has made her own, including during her election to the council two years ago.
At the mayoral installation on Tuesday, Cr O’Rourke’s speech included references to council embracing different points of view and making difficult decisions.
“The past 12 months have see council made a number of difficult decisions, not every decision we make will be popular, but it is our responsibility to be courageous and visionary in our decision making, ensuring under the Local Government Act we make decisions for the whole municipality,” she said.
“The community continue to comment about the importance of stability in the council, and how we have handled ourselves in the term thus far, they are particularly appreciative of the positive governance that this council demonstrates, and our healthy respect for different views and opinions.
“I think this is more valued in recent times when it appears to have been lost in federal government.”
– Sharon Kemp