A Greens attempt to hold an uncontested election in Ward 2 to save tens of thousands of ratepayer dollars has backfired amid accusations of undemocratic behaviour.
Only three candidates indicated they would contest the ward’s three council seats in September - Labor’s Romola Hollywood, Liberal Chris Van der Kley and the Greens’ Geordie Williamson - leading Mr Williamson to suggest withdrawing second and third candidates from each ticket and avoiding an election altogether.
The move is legal under the local government system, which states that if the number of candidates nominated for election in a ward is equal to or less than the number of seats up for grabs, those nominated will be declared elected.
Ratepayers must reimburse the state the cost of administering local government elections, and Mr Williamson said since the bill could top $60,000 he suggested "that we simply agree to withdraw our second and third candidates and the result then is automatically an uncontested election".
While he could appreciate that some would think "process was just as important as the saving of the money", a ticket’s second or third placed candidate had never been elected in Ward 2, Mr Williamson said.
"It would be unprecedented," he told the Gazette. "It wasn’t as if anything undemocratic was going to result from this, it was an acknowledgement of the state of affairs that was already in place.
"I would be letting people down before I even get into office if I didn’t explore the possibility of saving them money.
"There would be no way in the world that we would ever do anything when there was a reasonable possibility that the democratic choice would be other than that which we think it’s going to be."
The process would take place in several councils across NSW due to lack of candidates, he said.
While Clr Chris Van der Kley discussed the proposal with his colleagues before "deciding not to go down that track", the suggestion was rejected by Ms Hollywood and raised eyebrows among current councillors.
Ms Hollywood said elections were not an inconvenience, but rather "the hard won right for citizens in a democracy".
"I’m not going to be part of a shabby deal that denies the people of Ward 2 their right to vote," she said in a statement.
"My hard working team . . . would rather lose the right way than win the wrong way.
"It is important to ensure transparency in local government and the best way is through the democratic process, whatever the outcome."
Retiring Ward 3 Labor candidate Alison McLaren said she was "amazed" the Greens - "the party that markets themselves as the so-called defenders of democracy" - would consider the option.
"At best the comments by Mr Williamson show extreme political naivete," she said.
Ward 1 Independent councillor Janet Mays echoed the sentiment.
"It’s a furphy to suggest you are going to start council life by saving the community this money when you have not presented yourself to the community by way of election or even a community forum," she said.
Mr Williamson said the rejection of his proposal would not affect how he worked with Ms Hollywood.
"It was just a proposal floated and I understand their reasons for thinking that it’s important to go through the process even if it’s messy, even if it’s expensive, even if it’s wasteful," he said.
"I can see their point of view and I said to Romola . . . whatever you decide I look forward to working with you and I told her that I respected her decision entirely."