COASTAL Promontory Ward Councillor and long-time Toora resident Jeanette Harding is the new Mayor of South Gippsland Shire. Deputy Mayor is Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks.
Determined to present a united front, shire councillors carried out any jockeying or lobbying for the top position behind closed doors and Cr Harding was elected unopposed at a special (statutory) meeting of council last Wednesday.
The election of a deputy for Cr Harding was not so straightforward. Cr Lorraine Brunt nominated Cr Hutchinson-Brooks and Cr Don Hill nominated Cr Andrew McEwen. After a show of hands in which he won six votes (from Crs Brunt, Davies, Fawcett, Harding, Newton and himself) and Cr McEwen three (from Crs Hill, Kennedy and himself), Cr Hutchinson-Brooks was declared Deputy Mayor.
The elections were chaired and supervised by Sheryl Bruce, Returning Officer from the Victorian Electoral Commission, acting as the Returning Officer.
The council also voted for one-year Mayoral and Deputy Mayoral terms, as were enjoyed by the previous incumbents of the positions – Cr James Fawcett (Mayor) and Cr Harding (Deputy Mayor).
The Mayoral allowance at South Gippsland Shire is $71,058 per annum. Councillors, including the Deputy Mayor, receive an allowance of $22,965 per annum.
Cr Fawcett thanked the people he had worked with during his term as Mayor and claimed the shire had made “considerable progress” over the year. He named as particular achievements Council’s success in gaining funding for three of its Priority Projects, establishment of a community-driven rating strategy committee, development of a responsible Budget, signing a new contract for CEO Tim Tamlin, setting up a council Facebook page, and embarking on community engagement through the OurSay process.
Cr Fawcett said he was genuinely concerned about the level of rate rise but felt the answer to rate management was greater productivity and reduced expenditure. Council, he said, had achieved productivity savings of $2 million in recent years, now it was time for Councillors and the community to have a “genuine conversation” and determine where savings could be made on the services provided by Council.
He said that while he was generally of the belief that businesses should be run by private operators, he was comfortable that there were opportunities for Council to grow revenue by taking over the management of caravan parks. He added that costs needed to be decreased at Coal Creek and revenue increased.
Cr Fawcett’s deputy, Cr Harding, presented him with a thank you gift on behalf of their fellow councillors.
Cr Fawcett and Cr Hutchinson-Brooks both paid tribute to their wives for their support, acknowledging the difficult role of the spouse of a local councillor.
Cr Hutchinson-Brooks named cost-shifting – from federal and state to local government level – as a particularly difficult challenge for Council. He acknowledged that the community was hurting because of rising costs and suggested that developing the economy and increasing the population of the shire were ways of tackling financial difficulties. He had taken on the chairmanship, he said, of the shire’s economic development and tourism committee because he felt this was where real differences could be made.
Both Cr Hutchinson-Brooks and Cr Harding have served as Mayor in previous years and Cr Hutchinson-Brooks said that he believed they worked well together.