A referendum on the number of councillors?

Former Council Administrator, Dick Persson

If the Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, doesn’t sack our current crop of councillors – now suspended until April 30 – then Central Coast residents will vote in the local government elections slated for September 4 this year.

And if residents get to vote, they might also get to vote on a referendum on how many councillors they want in the future.

If the referendum gets up, residents will then at the next elections – due in 2024 – only vote for a total of nine councillors rather than the current 15 positions.

There are a lot of IFs in this story.

Administrator Dick Persson has formally resolved that we will vote at the September 2021 local government elections on reducing the number of councillor positions from 15 to nine.

He is also suggesting the wards should be abolished – but he is willing to ask the residents of the Central Coast for their opinion.

“It is my desire to present a viable and appealing proposal at the referendum and for this reason I am proposing community consultation regarding the ward structure,” he said.

“I personally think the no ward option is best so councillors represent the whole Coast, but I know there are other views.

“I will be seeking those views through a formal consultation process before deciding on what should be included in the referendum question.

Persson adopted his Administrator’s Minute – similar to a Mayoral Minute but without the debate – at the February 3 meeting.

The cost of asking one question in a referendum at a council election amounts to $214,700 or about 10 per cent of the estimated cost of running an election, which at this stage the NSW Electoral Commission has estimated for the Coast to be $2.1M.

Persson admitted he didn’t yet know how much cost would be involved in the preparation and publicity of the required explanatory material for the referendum which the Council must ensure presents a balanced case both for and against any proposition to be put.

“I believe 15 councillors is simply too many and does not facilitate collaborative and effective decision making and that has to change,” Persson said.

He said the smaller number would assist in changing the Council from a combative parliamentary style to a more collaborative and co-operative approach to its business.

He would like to see the position of mayor elected by the nine.

Community consultation will be undertaken in the next few months with a report due back to Council no later than mid-April.

We should know by then if the councillors are coming back or if the Minister has decided to sack them and begin an inquiry in the Council’s problems, which led to it being incapable of paying staff.

If she sacks them, the Council would probably continue to have an administrator for another 18months or so while the inquiry unfolds and, if so, we won’t be voting for any councillors, let alone 15 of them, this September.

Merilyn Vale