EAST FREMANTLE deputy mayor Jenny Harrington has been mysteriously sidelined by her own council from having any role in the expected merger with Fremantle.
Both councils met this week to nominate interim commissioners, having decided at earlier joint talks to put forward their two mayors and deputies.
But East Fremantle surprised its big cousin by deciding at a behind-closed-doors meeting that councillor Sian Martin would be nominated with mayor Jim O’Neill, leaving deputy mayor Harrington out in the cold.
The move had been set up earlier in the month when town councillors removed references to the deputy mayor in an officer’s recommendation and inserted “an elected member” instead.
Cr Harrington was absent from that meeting.
She wouldn’t comment to the Herald about the change and neither the mayor or town CEO have returned the Herald’s calls.
Fremantle, which went with the original plan at an open council meeting this week, warns East Freo’s machinations threaten to derail the process.
“There is some concern about the town’s position of not automatically nominating their deputy mayor, as this may not give the minister a level of confidence to agree to the appointment of five commissioners,” warn port city staff in a report to council.
As a result Fremantle will propose a Plan B and ask the minister to consider three commissioners if he’s unhappy with the East Fremantle arrangement.
Mayor Brad Pettitt says the five-commissioner plan was an attempt to make the interim council more representative of the merged entity.
Both Fremantle and East Fremantle are pushing for wards in the new city, not one city-wide ward as recommended by the WA local government advisory board. But organising a ward system could see unelected commissioners remain in place longer, and that’s not something Mark Woodcock from the Fremantle Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association is happy about. He says wards should be ditched, as per the Walgab recommendations, and elections be held as soon as possible.
Mr Woodcock says wards allow councillors to represent voters’ views but also pave the way for minority groups to pressure councillors. He says wards have led to too many people walking onto council unopposed, which paves the way for an underperforming council.
“To establish a ward system before October 2015 we would need to delay democracy and leave a state government-appointed commissioner in charge of the city with little or no oversight,” he says.
“At the end of the day a district election shows a truer form of democracy and if the electors decide they prefer the ward system after the next election they can ask to have the boundaries adjusted, as is their right under the Act.”
by STEVE GRANT