THE Courier’s current survey into the Ballarat City Council’s performance shows an overwhelming majority of respondents want to elect their own mayor.
The survey has thrown up the interesting statistic that 71 per cent want a directly elected civic leader, rather than one chosen by councillors.
Only 22 per cent were against it, with 7 per cent not sure.
But current mayor Mark Harris said a directly elected mayor would be a figurehead, with no real political clout.
“If you’d asked me when I wasn’t in council, then I would have said, for a raft of reasons, it would be a good idea,” Cr Harris said.
“But now I know a directly elected mayor has no direct power.
“The power I have as mayor is that I know I can summon five out of nine votes on an issue, talk with authority about it and say it’s going to happen.”
Cr Harris said a directly elected mayor did not vote on issues, unless a casting vote was needed, and basically just chaired meetings.
“It removes you from the decision making entirely. It’s almost an honorary capacity. You’re entirely removed from the political process.”
Cr Harris said only Melbourne City Council had a directly elected mayor in former Liberal Party leader Robert Doyle, but Geelong will trial the same system after the October 27 local government elections.
Premier Ted Baillieu promised the Geelong trial before the last state election to try to prevent political interference in choosing a mayor.
The decision in Ballarat has at times been controversial, with a Liberal Party function once marred by a fight over a plan to appoint a Labor-aligned councillor as mayor.
Cr Doyle is currently paid $160,000 to carry out the full-time position, with the Geelong mayor expected to be paid just slightly less.
This contrasts to the current Ballarat mayoral payment of $65,984 for a part-time position.
The Geelong mayor could also get a chief of staff or support team, which will be decided by the council as part of its budget process.
There is no cap on how much money candidates can use in their campaign but they have to declare any donations of more than $500.
But Cr Harris said this system wouldn’t suit smaller councils like Ballarat.
“If I was to be a directly elected mayor, I’d say no because I’d be disenfranchised from voting.
“In a sense, do you want to do a job for four years but not influence policy? You basically just become a figurehead.”
Cr Harris said he understood the community might want to choose who represents them publicly.
“But they will only be articulating the decisions other councillors have made.”
He said the municipalities that had adopted, or were about to adopt, a direct election system had had a lot of controversy over who was going to be mayor.
However, he said the direct election system had a lot of “devil in the detail”.