New Bega Valley mayor elected amid heated exchange

Bega Valley Shire councillors. File photo
Bega Valley Shire councillors. File photo

Russell Fitzpatrick has been elected as the shire's new mayor for the next 12 months, with Liz Seckold as his deputy.

Councillors met for their regular meeting on Wednesday afternoon, with the number one matter on the agenda the election of a new mayoral team.

Cr Sharon Tapscott had been serving as the Bega Valley's mayor since May when Kristy McBain stepped aside from the role during her successful campaign for the federal seat of Eden-Monaro.

However, at the outset of the meeting she indicated she would not be contesting either role as she planned to step down from council in the near future to become a full-time carer for her ill husband.

"It has been my privilege to serve as a councillor, deputy and for a short time as mayor," Cr Tapscott said.

"I will not be contesting any of the positions as I will be soon be retiring to become a carer for my husband who is suffering from a degenerative disorder.

"I hope the incoming mayor and deputy receive the same support I have had."

Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick

Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick

Cr Fitzpatrick and Cr Robyn Bain were both nominated for the top role, with Cr Fitzpatrick receiving five of the nine councillor votes - Crs Tapscot, Liz Seckold, Jo Dodds, Cathy Griff and his own.

Ahead of the vote, held via a show of "ticks" on the video chat streamed live to council's website, Cr Fitzpatrick said with the council's financial situation the most important issue to address in the coming months he was "quite happy to lead the way".

"I don't think I'm any more or less qualified than any other person who will hold this position," the former deputy mayor said.

"We have an improvement program underway to address financial issues and I'm quite happy to lead the way."

Cr Robyn Bain said she felt a sense of "deja vu" given the previous mayoral vote was only four months ago.

"[And] I don't believe much has happened in the months since the past vote.

"I have a strong belief that we need to lead this council back to the strongest position we can.

"It has been Crs Allen, Nadin and myself who first brought the finances issue to light and we have been relentless in terms of our efforts to ensure councillors can ascertain why we're in the position we are and how to develop a plan to get out of the position we're in.

"And that takes a lot of courage. Particularly when there are five councillors who do not seem to think much of the issue and vote against us at every opportunity. Or they sneer, or roll their eyes whenever it is raised."

At this point Cr Dodds raised a point of order, with general manager Leanne Barnes telling Cr Bain the purpose of the pre-vote statement was to focus on issues and not fellow councillors.

Cr Bain continued by saying the vote for mayor should not be a popularity contest but based on skills.

"I put my hand up not because I expect you will change your vote from three months ago, but as it's a signal to the community that we are not as united as we should be in turning this council around to place it in the best financial position we can."

Cr Robyn Bain also questioned Cr Kristy McBain on whether she should be voting given her commitments to federal politics as the Labor member for Eden-Monaro.

"At this point I'm an active member of this council and intend to vote and work with whomever is mayor," Cr McBain countered, with Ms Barnes confirming that there is nothing to preclude a sitting federal member from also being an active local government councillor and participating in votes on the day.

The issue was moot once Cr Fitzpatrick received a majority result without Cr McBain's vote.

Meanwhile, Cr Seckold out-polled Cr Griff for the deputy role 4-2, with Crs Mitch Nadin, Robyn Bain and Kristy McBain abstaining.

The leadership duo will serve until the next local government elections, scheduled for September 2021.

This story New Bega Valley mayor elected amid heated exchange first appeared on Bega District News.