From time to time the method of electing a Mayor comes up. There are two methods; elected by the electorate (directly elected) or elected by the council (council elected). For the following reasons, I have a strong preference for the council to elect the Mayor.
1. The Local Government Act 1995 defines the roles of Mayor and Councillor as:
The highlighted points are the key differences between the two roles.
Whilst a ‘local government’ and a ‘council’ are technically different, in essence, as a council is responsible for the performance of the local government the two are entwined. Therefore points ‘c’ and ‘d’ have the effect of carrying out duties on behalf of the council and speaking on behalf of the council. As such I think it only right that the council get to decide who speaks and acts on their behalf – who is their representative. Much the same as the Liberal and Labor parliamentarians get to choose their State and Federal leaders rather than the electorate.
2. Councils can become dysfunctional. With a council elected Mayor it is certain that the Mayor has at least started out with the support of the majority of Councillors. Alternatively it is entirely possible that a directly elected Mayor has no support from any Councillors and this may hinder the effective running of the council, and local government. The UK’s Political Studies Association also notes that a directly-elected Mayor concentrates power in a single person and is contrary to “collective leadership”.
3. A council elected Mayor almost guarantees that the person elected has experience and the required skill-set. It means the majority of Councillors believe the person they elect as Mayor is well placed to do the job. Alternatively it is entirely possible that a directly elected Mayor, if they have a high enough profile, or deep enough pockets, is elected Mayor after not even being a Councillor for a period of time.
4. Conversely to point 3, once a directly elected Mayor, always a directly elected Mayor. As the Mayor is the spokesperson for the local government they receive a great deal of publicity. Traditionally when a local government has a directly elected Mayor they are there forever and, in my opinion, the longer a Mayor is there the more it is treated as their personal fiefdom. As this book explains, “Within democracies, although ‘strong leaders’ are seldom as strong or independent as they purport to be, the idea that one person is entitled to take the big decisions is dangerous nonetheless, and the advantages of a collegial style of leadership are too often overlooked”.
It is also hard to “refresh” an organisation when the Mayors themselves are not easily able to be “refreshed”.
I accept people have differing views on this, and with the objective of balance I will offer the one advantage of a directly elected Mayor. Shouldn’t the citizens of an area have a right to choose who fronts the media and attends numerous official functions to talk about the Town or City in which they live? I imagine when the public see and hear some Mayors, they roll their eyes and wonder how on earth did he/she become Mayor of my area.
As always, feel free to add your thoughts or raise anything I may have missed.
(Please be aware that these views are my own and have not been endorsed by the City of Bayswater.)