Our Say: Secrecy or direct vote, that is the question

In a move that would be extemely rare in local government politics, a state MP has weighed in publicly on the election of a mayor.

Certainly, in councils officially contested by political parties councillors might be subjected to scrutiny from party seniors and even political machines, but the Dubbo Regional Council (DRC) does not fit that bill.

So, the statement issued by Dubbo MP Troy Grant late on Monday regarding Thursday’s election of the first DRC mayor has caused much speculation, comment and raising of eyebrows.

Mr Grant said he was concerned councillors would be pressured into supporting a candidate to “keep the peace” or minimise the “disruption a councillor” may cause the new team.

There is an issue with the mayoral election. Some, if not all, of the 10 new councillors have been having secret discussions about the mayor and deputy mayor roles. There have been suggestions of “political” horse-trading.

Only one candidate has so far declared to the community that they are standing.

There is wide expectation Councillor Ben Shields will stand. He refuses to say if he will. He again declined the opportunity to advise the community of his intentions when asked by the Daily Liberal on Tuesday.

But, the word doing the rounds is he will run and has the numbers to win. Anyone connected with civic affairs, believes he will run.

Defences were certainly up on Tuesday.

Cr Shields and Mr Grant have crossed swords in public comments in recent times.

When Mr Grant’s office was asked to identify the target of his remarks, the response was he would make no more comment.

Cr Shields refused to comment on whether he thought Mr Grant’s remarks were aimed at him.

DRC voters still haven’t been told who may or may not stand. The councillors they just put in office aren’t talking.

Why is the information to be kept secret from voters? It is not simply an issue of keeping personalities or (in Mr Shields’ words) councillors’ “dirty laundry” out of it.

The voters would have an obvious interest. They surely should be told.

They didn’t like the ward voting system and want to return to the old cross-city voting system where they could choose from all council candidates. Perhaps they might think a direct and open public vote for mayor, as happens elsewhere, is a good idea.