“WELL, that was easy.”
So said a member of the public gallery, Ron Wangman, after the special statutory meeting of the South Gippsland Shire Council had concluded last Wednesday, in just 29 minutes, having elected the new mayor, Cr Ray Argento, unopposed.
There was no contest.
No opposing candidates.
No long-winded speeches.
And virtually nothing for the returning officer, Cheryl Bruce, from the Victorian Electoral Commission, to do.
It certainly appeared easy.
Even Cr Maxine Kiel, who was elected unopposed as Deputy Mayor, conceded that she had a speech ready to support her nomination but in the circumstances, was happy to abbreviate it into an acceptance speech.
Of course, there was plenty going on below the surface. There always is.
And the ‘Open Letter to Councillors’ emailed out to all his colleagues on Tuesday, November 8 by Cr Don Hill seems to have played a part, not in dividing the council but in bringing it together.
While Cr Hill accused the new councillors in his email of “factional decision making” in deciding to back Cr Argento, and also of making a serious mistake in not considering Cr Andrew McEwen or himself for the top job; in a clear demonstration of unity, it was Cr McEwen who stepped up and nominated Cr Argento.
“We need to work together as a high-performance team that works for the common good,” said a magnanimous Cr McEwen, also stressing the importance of unity afterwards.
It was far cry from the comments Cr Hill had made in his ‘open letter’ complaining about the process for selecting Cr Argento.
“We are supposed to put forward our reasons for standing and why we should be chosen ahead of the other candidates. I am confident that when Andrew and I put forward our points which we have already partially mentioned, that anyone weighing up all the debate could not select someone without prior council experience. It would be like selecting the CEO from someone who was working as a school teacher. Just not qualified for the role compared to someone with actual experience,” he said only a week earlier.
And when it came to nominating the Deputy Mayor, the point about unity was driven home by Cr Hill himself when he nominated his Mirboo North colleague Cr Maxine Kiel.
Long forgotten was Cr Hill’s disappointment at being excluded from the deputy’s position because he wasn’t a woman or for some other reason out of favour.
“I think I have been excluded because I was an existing Councillor and the bullying might now be continuing. Further, I have also been excluded because I am not female. I also think I might have been excluded because of misleading rumours spread by those now unelected councillors to those candidates who were associated with them in the campaign period.”
After only a week, he not only missed out on being nominated, he turned around and nominated a woman for the role himself.
Cr Argento was delighted to accept the confidence of his colleagues and acquitted himself well during his first time in the chair.
“We now have a new shire and I am excited about the future,” Cr Argento said, highlighting economic growth, the right conditions for jobs growth, issues for the dairy industry and also improving communication with the community.
“It’s about bridging the gap between the council, the community and the shire administration.
“We want to promote the region, and make it clear that the people are the number one priority.
“We’ve got nine willing and able councillors and we’ll be working on our priorities.
“There’s also the issues associated with the downturn in the dairy industry that we’ll be looking to address.
“And other things; listening to the people in the wards and looking for efficiencies in the council but it’s only been a week, we’re still getting our feet under the desk
“Each councillor comes to the table with things they want to see happen and we’ll be working though those things as well.”
Asked if the email sent by Cr Hill had shaken his decision to stand, Cr Argento said ‘no’ but he also restated his intention “not to comment on an internal email”.
“My second thoughts about taking on the role of mayor weren’t about that. It was about whether I would be able to do my share for the ward at the same time as being mayor.
“But my colleagues in Coastal Promontory said they thought it could also benefit the ward as well, so I agreed to accept their request.”
Also at the statutory meeting, councillors voted to appoint Cr Jeremy Rich to the CEO Review Committee (deputy and mayor automatically on the committee), Cr Lorraine Brunt to the Audit Committee and Cr Meg Edwards to the West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation Board, with Cr Alyson Skinner the alternate.