Should the Coorong’s mayor be elected by the people?

Residents are encouraged to have their say about changes coming at the 2022 local government election.

Paul Simmons encourages residents to have their say about proposed changes to the way elections are decided in the Coorong district. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Should ratepayers be able to vote directly for their mayor, instead of letting councillors pick?

That’s the question being put to Coorong district residents this month, even though – in effect – a decision has already been made.

Ballot papers have been posted to every household in the district during the past week, asking people to choose one of two options.

The first option would be the status quo, where residents vote for councillors and the councillors choose who should be mayor.

That’s the same method used in state and federal politics.

The second option would be a change to direct elections, where residents would vote separately for both local councillors and the mayor.

That’s the method used in Murray Bridge and by most other councils, and the one backed by about three quarters of locals, according to previous consultations.

It’s also a method which all South Australian councils will soon be required to use, thanks to a recent change in state law.

So really, the only thing residents will decide is whether to make the change in time for the next local government election, due in November 2022.

A direct election would make the mayor more accountable to the public, consultants CL Rowe and Associates told the council in a report in August.

On the down side, good candidates might be forced off council entirely if they ran for mayor and lost.

Current Mayor Paul Simmons encouraged everyone to have their say on the proposal by October 22.

Wards will be abolished, number of councillors reduced

The question about the way the mayor is elected is not the only change coming at the next Coorong council election.

The district will no longer be divided into wards, sweeping away – on paper, at least – the divides between the old Peake, Meningie and Coonalpyn Downs councils.

The number of councillors will also be reduced from nine to either seven or eight, depending whether or not residents keep the current method for electing the mayor.

Councils usually try to have an odd number of members to avoid tied votes.

Those two changes have already been decided by the current crop of councillors

The proposed changes came up during a review of representation arrangements in the district, which councils are required to do every eight years.

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