Deputy Lord Mayor holds the City Council and State Government to ransom with the cost of a by-election costing the City Council up to one million dollars
The Melbourne City Council has failed to pass a vote of confidence in the Deputy Lord Mayor. Gary Singer, following revelations of professional misconduct and the appointment of the Deputy Lord Mayor's personal partner to a Council funded Arts position.
Under current legislation if Melbourne's Lord Mayor or Deputy Lord Mayor resigns more then six months before the next scheduled general election (due in November 2008) then the City of Melbourne must conduct a by-election costing ratepayers up to a Million dollars.
This must bear heavily on the minds of the State Government and our City Councillors who have failed to pass a vote of confidence in the Deputy Lord Mayor, Gary Singer.
Our City Councillors are faced with a dilemma. If they express a vote of no-confidence in the Deputy Lord Mayor and he resigns then the City Council will have to foot the bill of a new election. It would be cheaper for the Lord Mayor and Councillors to allow the Deputy Lord Mayor to retain his position, in name alone, and do nothing.
This would explain a lot of what's possibly going on with the proposed restructure recently reported in the Herald-Sun. (see previous posts)
Under current the provisions of the Local Government Act/City of Melbourne Act, if the office of Deputy Lord Mayor becomes vacant within six months before a general election then the City Council can elect one of their own to fill the vacancy and a count-back of the votes cast at the original election would determine who would fill the position of Councillor selected to become Deputy Lord Mayor. (In the case of a vacancy the in the office of Lord Mayor the Deputy Lord Mayor would assume office - It is unclear what the process would be if both Deputy and Lord Mayor resign simultaneously).
The rules related to the filling casual vacancies via a count-back of the original ballot maintain the democratic proportional representation of the Council and avoid the need for and associated costs of holding a by-election. There is no reason why these rules can not and should not apply to all casual vacancies and not just vacancies that occur within six months. (It should be noted that the count-back provisions are rather convoluted as there are two different options that can be chosen and each option can and will produce a different outcome - more on that latter)
What price do you put on democracy?
What happens if the Deputy Lord Mayor or Lord Mayor are hit by a buss, suffer an unfortunate accident or can no longer continue to fulfill their elected responsibilities. What happens if the elected Council pass a vote of no-confidence in the Lord Mayor or Deputy Lord Mayor?
The cost of holding a by-election weighs heavily on the deliberations of the City Council which is being held to ransom. It would be cheaper and more convenient to allow the person to remain in the position without any responsibility. They would continue in remain there in name alone, eligible to receive payment of allowance and other benefits.
The method of filling casual vacancies in city wide or multi-member electorates MUST be reviewed.
The City Council should not be held to ransom by a person who has lost the confidence of the elected Council or be burdened by the costs involved in the conduct of a by-election should that person resign.
The responsibility for this situation lies with the State Government who must now review the Local Government Act in respect to casual vacancies.
The State Government must act and review the whole system of filling casual vacancies as well as the model of direct election of Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor. The Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor must at all times maintain the confidence of the elected Council. State government legislation must address situations where the Council nolonger has confidence in it's Mayor.
The alternative method of filling casual vacancies via a count-back system, as currently exists in legislation related to casual vacancies that fall within six months of an general election, should be extended and apply to all casual vacancies that occur during the term of office of the elected Council.
City of Melbourne Act
Section 24. Filling of vacancies
(1) If the office of Lord Mayor or Deputy Lord Mayor
becomes vacant 6 months or more before a
general election is due, an election to fill the
vacancy must be held on a Saturday to be
appointed by the Chief Executive Officer that is
not later than the 100th day after the vacancy
(2) If the office of Lord Mayor or Deputy Lord Mayor
becomes vacant less than 6 months before a
general election is due, it is not necessary to hold
an election to fill the vacancy.
(3) In the circumstances specified in sub-section (2)—
(a) if the office of the Lord Mayor becomes
vacant, the Deputy Lord Mayor becomes the
Lord Mayor on the passing of a resolution by
the Council that an election to fill the
vacancy not be held; and
(b) if the office of the Deputy Lord Mayor
becomes vacant, the Council may appoint a
Councillor to fill the vacancy; and
(c) if the Council does so, the subsequent
vacancy in the office of the Councillor
appointed is to be filled in accordance with
Schedule 3A and section 37A(4) of the
Local Government Act 1989.