Ben Shields won't confirm run for Dubbo Regional Council mayor

NEW COUNCIL: Ben Shields and his nine fellow councillors were officially sworn in on Monday. The mayor will be decided in a vote on Thursday. Photo: JENNIFER HOAR
NEW COUNCIL: Ben Shields and his nine fellow councillors were officially sworn in on Monday. The mayor will be decided in a vote on Thursday. Photo: JENNIFER HOAR

Councillor Ben Shields has denied there is a lack of transparency in the process of appointing the mayor of Dubbo Regional Council (DRC) – but won’t say if he will run.

Cr Shields was deputy mayor of Dubbo City Council, but has repeatedly declined to comment on whether or not he intends to stand for mayor in the new DRC.

Speculation is rife that Cr Shields plans to run for mayor at Thursday’s extraordinary council meeting, and has the numbers to secure the top job.

He said the community had demanded for years that “councillors don't air their dirty laundry in the public arena” and “it's good for councillors to have these discussions quietly”.

The Daily Liberal asked Cr Shields whether the public had the right to know what deals were going on behind closed doors to decide Dubbo and Wellington’s highest office.

Cr Shields did not directly answer the question, despite vowing during his election campaign to work towards a more transparent council.

The mayoral race was the focus of a highly unusual intervention in local government politics by Dubbo MP Troy Grant, who on Monday issued a statement expressing his concern that councillors would be pressured into supporting a candidate to “keep the peace”, or minimise the “disruption a councillor” may cause the new team by giving that person a role.

“A divisive individual chosen for all the wrong reasons will only be a credible threat to the prosperity of our region,” Mr Grant said.

Asked who his comments were directed at, Mr Grant’s office said he would make no additional comment.

Cr Shields refused to comment on whether he believed the remarks were aimed at him.

Nor would he talk on any suggestion of behind-the-scenes mayoral negotiations.

“I'm not confirming either way what's going on, but I'm saying that the community has demanded for years that the councillors don't air their dirty laundry in the public arena,” Cr Shields said.

“We've been doing that for too many years as council and we've been criticised for carrying on in the public arena and I believe we need to behave as a more united team.

“That means it's good for councillors to have these discussions quietly.”

He denied there was any contradiction between his campaign, and his current secrecy.

“There's a difference between policy transparency and personality politics,” he said.

“I think it shows maturity that there are discussions all over the place privately and there are many names being floated for the job of mayor.”

He wouldn’t be drawn on who the other possible candidates were.

Cr Kevin Parker is the only person who has openly said he will stand for mayor. When asked by the Daily Liberal last week, Crs John Ryan and Greg Mohr did not rule it out.

The lack of candidates declaring their interest prompted Mr Grant’s comments.

“To reward bad behaviour or intent would be a total disaster and certainly not in the communities’ best interest in my view,” he said.

“I understand that a number of candidates have been approached to stand but are reluctant to do so due to work commitments or being new on council as an inhibitor.

“It is vital that the crucial role in the new council of mayor or deputy mayor is held by someone with the necessary characteristics and attributes of maturity, selflessness and leadership ability to bring a team together.

“Their role is to develop or foster vital relationships with stakeholders in the state and federal government and across the business and communities of both Dubbo and Wellington with strong communication skills.

“… the work of bringing everyone together is the priority. I’m confident that a mayoral candidate with this ability exists within the cohort.”