Referendum to vote for popularly elected mayor mooted

A mayor chosen by the people?: Mayor Mark Greenhill at Glenbrook Lagoon. He claims this delicate ecosystem could be put at risk by a pro-development mayor and council. He would like to see the community elect a mayor, not the council.
A mayor chosen by the people?: Mayor Mark Greenhill at Glenbrook Lagoon. He claims this delicate ecosystem could be put at risk by a pro-development mayor and council. He would like to see the community elect a mayor, not the council.

Could the Blue Mountains community have the chance to vote for the mayor?

That's the idea the current mayor Mark Greenhill wants to take to a vote after the new council is formed.

Cr Greenhill said he will take a motion to the new council calling for the community to have a say in whether the people elect the mayor. He said the current system was "antiquated, hailing back to the 1970s" and the idea of a community choosing a mayor was "more democratic".

"I am one of the longest, continuous serving mayors in the history of this city and one of the more senior currently serving mayors in Sydney, yet the people did not elect me to this position. That has always sat uncomfortably with me," he said.

Cr Greenhill is elected by the people of Ward 4 in the Lower Mountains. The elected councillors go on to choose the mayor.

He said the reason for his recent stance was the "possibility" at the coming election on Saturday December 4 "that our community - where a majority of residents place the environment and opposition to over-development as key concerns in council surveys - could be shocked to find a mayor installed whose views are the opposite".

Of the 128 councils in NSW only 35 have popularly elected mayors. The NSW Electoral Commission said the process to determine whether a mayor was popularly elected would involve a referendum taking place to decide whether the community wanted to change the way the mayor came to power. In a local referendum, voters are usually required to tick either yes or no on the ballot paper.

Cr Greenhill said a "mayor has enormous power and the new council could install someone who is prepared to tear up the local environment plan".

"We could have a circumstance emerge where the community votes for councillors in good faith, expecting them to protect our quality of life, only to discover that is not what the new councillors intend."

"Right now we have an antiquated system that hails from the 1970s. It's time we asked the community ... whether it should remain the case that the role is chosen by politicians."

The change would not come in to place for the coming election. But due to COVID delaying the normal four year term back in 2020, this council will serve a shorter term, so the process could happen quickly. All residents would have two voting forms - one for their ward councillors and a separate ballot paper for the mayor. They could also decide whether to elect more or fewer councillors.

Cr Greenhill said he had planned to take the idea to the council in 2016, "but we ended up fighting repeated attempts by the state government to remove this environmentally committed council".

The 35 councils across NSW where a mayor is elected by the community include: Ballinal, Bellingel, Broken Hilll, Burwood, Byron Shire, City of Canada Bay, Cessnock, Coffs Harbour, Dungog, Eurobodalla, Fairfield, Griffith, Hornsby, Hunters Hill, Kempsey, Lake Macquarie, Lismore, Liverpool, Maitland, Mosman, Nambucca Valley, Newcastle, Orange, Port Macquarie, Port Stephens, Richmond Valley, Shellharbour, Shoalhaven, Singleton, City of Sydney, The Hillsl, Uralla, Willoughby, Wollondilly and Wollongong.