JUST-ELECTED South Gippsland Shire Coastal-Promontory Ward Councillor Mohya Davies of Foster has accepted a special place to sit for the next year – in the chair reserved for the Mayor of the municipality.
At the beginning of his first time in such an office, Cr Nathan Hersey has also taken up an additional position within the shire as well as representing the Strzelecki Ward for he is now the Deputy Mayor.
“I see a bright future for South Gippsland, and I’m excited and energised,” Cr Davies said as she accepted the mayoralty.
“We are embarking on a new era [and] our aim is the restoration of a council that can be trusted and respected,” she said.
“The eyes of our community, our region and our state will be on us.”
Cr Davies is the only one of the shire’s nine newly-declared councillors who has previous local government experience, having served South Gippsland as a councillor from 2008 to 2016, including a few terms as deputy mayor.
The meeting to elect the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor, held in the chamber at Leongatha on Wednesday morning November 17, 2021, was the new council’s first public appearance.
Even the arrangement of the furniture in the chamber was different for the start of the incoming council’s three-year term.
The usual horseshoe of tables had been rotated 180 degrees so that the mayoral and executive seats faced instead of backed the room’s quartet of flags; Australian, Victorian, South Gippsland Shire, and Aboriginal, with the usual Michael Place entrance behind them.
A COVID-Safe-limited gallery consisting of councillors’ relatives and friends, community members, shire staff, and the local Press sat in the Memorial Hall adjoining the chamber and observed the meeting through open double doors.
Shire chief executive officer Kerryn Ellis chaired the meeting during its early stages and was in charge of conducting the election of the Mayor as required by the Victorian Local Government Act 2020.
Me Ellis added a little levity to the proceedings when noting that she was “very happy to say there are no apologies, which is terrific as this is the first meeting of the new council!”
She also oversaw the council’s inaugural decision, with Cr John Schelling moving that the minutes of the shire’s October 20, 2021 meeting number 464 be confirmed, with Cr Jenni Keerie seconding, and their colleagues voting in unanimous support.
Ms Ellis said “the main business of the meeting” was to elect the Mayor and advised she had received two nominations for the role and that both were for Cr Davies, with one from Cr Davies herself, and the other from Cr Clare Williams, with the backing of Cr Sarah Gilligan.
As she was the only candidate no election was required and Cr Davies’ appointment as Mayor was confirmed by a full show of hands and hearty applause before she took over the chair.
Cr Schelling congratulated Cr Davies, commenting that she had “a long history of public involvement in the South Gippsland area, especially in Foster” with “an eight-year term as a councillor when she was held in high esteem by her constituents.”
Cr Davies thanked the South Gippsland community on behalf of her fellows, saying “it is an honour and a privilege to serve as a councillor.
“Thank you to all of the candidates [who] put up their hands, and congratulations to all of the councillors – the election is a challenging process [however] the voters have made their choice and have chosen well!”
Cr Davies said she was “feeling the weight of responsibility and am humbled by the experience of becoming Mayor.
“This is an opportunity to work with the CEO and the organisation at a new level,” she said.
“Thank you to the councillors for their support and the confidence they have shown in me.
“We have a diverse council with different perspectives [including] a younger demographic and I believe we have a fabulous group that will be able to debate issues, make resolutions and move our council forward.
“There is a lot of energy and enthusiasm which will sustain us over the course of our term,” Cr Davies said.
“Since the election result was announced, all councillors have worked well together and have shown a united front.
“It has been a massive week for us all, and the induction program has been rigorous and intensive, both online and in-person.
“We have been introduced to the complexity of the business that is local government and have hit the ground running,” she said. “This is where the rubber hits the road, and now it is time for action.
“We have taken the oath and committed to a code of conduct – being on council is a very intense relationship and we will need to hold each other to account!
“I believe our councillors are deeply connected to their communities and they will help us work towards greater community satisfaction,” Cr Davies said.
“We need to be responsive and accountable to our wider community and meet their expectations.”
Cr Davies said the council has a “need to manage the pressure of planning for the future of our community and what that will look like”, and to be “realistic” about rates.
The high cost of rubbish and the demands on road infrastructure, especially the 1200 kilometres of unmade roads in the shire, were also identified as issues for the new council.
“We will be working on a Vision, a Council Plan and our Financial Plan, and we need to explain our decisions so there are no surprises for our community.
“We will be judged by our decisions and the strategic direction we create for South Gippsland,” she said.
“I would also like to acknowledge the work of Prue Digby as our monitor and as a resource who will give guidance to us as an inexperienced council.”
Cr Hersey nominated himself for Deputy Mayor, seconded by Cr Mick Felton, and as he was the only candidate for the role, he was duly installed, again with a show of hands.
Cr Davies congratulated Cr Hersey and said, “I look forward to working alongside you as Deputy Mayor.”
The first ordinary meeting of the new South Gippsland Shire Council takes place in the council chamber in Leongatha on Wednesday November 24, 2021.