Method of Electing the Mayor

Throne

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:

Roles

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.)

3 thoughts on “Method of Electing the Mayor

  1. I think you have made some strong points for a mayor to be elected by their fellow councillors. My feeling is the councillors will know the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed mayor and be able to vote accordingly. For the incoming mayor it would be confidence building and encouraging for him to know that at least in the beginning he enjoys support from the majority of the councillors.

  2. This is a great piece.

    Adding my two cents in, it’s clear that the Mayor is simply the presiding officer of our meetings and the chosen spokesperson of the Council. The Mayor has no legislated executive power – and nor should they – they are simply a Councillor with extra duties.

    Having a directly elected Mayor comes with it expectations from the community of centralised power and quick decisions. It leads to poor governance and poor outcomes. There are countless examples from across WA where LGA have directly-elected Mayors with terrible results. We all know what happens when governments (of any persuasion at any level) increase their power = they never give it back!

    1. Thanks for your comments Brent. I hadn’t thought of this point, “Having a directly elected Mayor comes with it expectations from the community of centralised power and quick decisions” but agree that it is true and most certainly leads to poor governance.

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