MAV elections - special local government edition

February 26, 2011

Dear Readers,

After publishing this critique of the candidates for the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) board on February 4, it was good to see that we'd endorsed 6 of the 9 successful applicants in a field of 25. Since then, two vice-presidents have been elected by the board.

Ranking councillors and promoting top talent is something we'll be doing more of in the lead up to the 2012 council elections and we've started the process with this list of ten excellent Victorian councillors. We're hoping to expand it to a top 100 and would appreciate all feedback to The hard bit will no doubt be when we get onto assessing the worst councillors, but that won't happen for a while.

In regards to the VLGA board elections, the biggest surprise was that our endorsed Presidential candidate, former Port Phillip mayor Frank O'Connor, didn't even make the board.

Instead, incumbent VLGA Treasurer and Green member Samantha Dunn won the Presidency which is no bad thing. This is what we said about her performance at the February 3 candidates' forum:

Samantha Dunn from Yarra Ranges would provide continuity as the incumbent Treasurer and handled the questions well. It would be great to have a female VLGA President, although the VLGA isn't exactly excessively blokey given the appointment of new CEO Maree McPherson and the fact that Rose Iser was President up until early 2010. Unfortunately, Samantha didn't also run for the board because, in a generous act, she wanted to maximise the prospects of fellow Yarra Ranges councillor Jeanette McRae. Therefore, it's President or nothing for Samantha which in a way might increase her support because she seemed well and truly up to the task last night.

We've been corresponding with VLGA CEO Maree McPherson about getting hold of the actual voting results and she emailed yesterday to say they should be available in the next couple of days, so we'll provide an assessment once that comes through.

And now for the MAV election

After not disclosing the voting outcome last time, it would be good if the Municipal Association of Victoria board followed the VLGA lead and committed to full disclosure of the board election results which are currently in full swing.

The MAV held its first candidates forum for Presidential candidates in Melbourne last night. There were four candidates initially, although Manningham's Liberal mayor Geoff Gough subsequently withdrew and distributed this letter to delegates endorsing incumbent independent MAV President Bill McArthur. As the Gough letter pointed out, the two other Presidential candidates are party political players, namely Labor's Jane Rowe and National Reid Mather, who both hail from far flung corners of the state.

Unfortunately, a family illness meant Jane Rowe wasn't able to make last night's forum so it was only Bill McArthur and Reid Mather shaping up in front of just 4 councillors gathered at the MAV headquarters: John Sipek from Moonee Valley, Coral Ross from Boroondara, Geoff Gough from Manningham and yours truly.

Whilst I did support Gough to be mayor of Manningham in 2011, the pragmatic political player voted for Labor's Meg Downie ahead of your correspondent in the contested private ballot for deputy mayor. This is a contested election defeat we hadn't yet disclosed and only do so to make the point that this assessment of the MAV board elections is completely independent.

There was an unknown number watching the webcast last night, which has not been archived for the MAV website. And we only had one web question from Kingston's Rosemary West and Steve Staikos about preservation of the Green Wedge.

Over the 50 minute discussion, both candidates performed strongly. Mather was clearly pitching the change agenda saying the MAV needs to listen more to its membership and do more in the training space. He also talked about having good contacts with the new Minister.

McArthur presented as a safe pair of hands who has performed well as an independent and strong negotiator. He stressed that his home in Banockburn is only an hour away from the MAV whilst Reid Mather declined to specify the trip from Buloke in the Wimmera-Mallee which the council annual report explains is 300km from Melbourne.

However, Mather did say he would be prepared to leave home for three weeks straight to serve as MAV President and if this cost the MAV an extra $20,000 to $30,000 then so be it. It's an expense a $2 million a year business can absorb, he said.

Bill McArthur claimed the most for accommodation with $14,763 in 2009-10, whilst Reid Mather came in third with $9317. The expense claims of all MAV directors are set out on page 11 of the 2009-10 annual report and the fees paid, along with attendance records, are on page 10.

Around the grounds of the regions

The MAV board comprises a President and 12 directors from various regions. The elections are for two year terms and only the 79 nominated MAV delegates from Victoria's councils are allowed to vote. Once the directors have been voted in, they choose a city and country vice-president who collected $11,136 in 2009-10, rather than the $7,582 paid to ordinary directors. President Bill collected $54,024 plus a car last year.

As is explained on the MAV website, the following 4 regions have produced uncontested regional delegates for the next two years:

* Cr Rod Fyffe, City of Greater Bendigo (rural north central region – incumbent Board member and veteran Labor member)

* Cr Ken Gale, Moyne Shire Council (rural south west region – incumbent Board member)

* Cr Geoff Lake, Monash City Council (metro southern region – incumbent Board member and former MAV Labor President)

* Cr Geoff Gough, Manningham City Council (metro east region – incumbent Board member and Liberal member)

Where are all the women?

Unfortunately, that sets a very blokey tone for the board. There have been contested elections across the other eight regions, which is a little surprising considering that with only a handful of councils voting on each position, it would have been easy to have private informal testing of support, like what happens with the vast majority of mayoral elections.

Still, all these contests do provide an opportunity to assess the field and we've attempted to identify the best candidates as follows:

Metro central region: Cr Gaetano Greco (Darebin) vs Cr Enver Erdogan (Moreland)
Enver's attendance record at the MAV in 2009-10 was the worst of all directors after a traumatic December 2009 mayoral vote at Moreland that saw the Labor blokes on council denied their plan to install him as mayor. His rival, Gaetano Greco, was described by Crikey's Hillary Bray back in 2002 as "a former assistant to an Elvis impersonator and unsuccessful Darebin Council candidate". These days Gaetano is a successful Darebin councillor hailing from the Left of the ALP and after watching him perform at three Darebin council meetings last year, he deserves a spot on the MAV board. Gaetano also did an impressive MAV study tour and report in 2008-09 on the provision of free wifi by local government.

Metro west region: Cr John Sipek (Moonee Valley); Cr Angela Altair (Hobsons Bay); Cr Michael Clarke (Maribyrnong)
Cr Altair is a highly regarded independent and former journalist who may get up with the support of the Brimbank administrator and one of Wyndham or Melton. In a large field, it always comes down to the votes of councils which don't contest The other two candidates are solid western suburbs Labor councillors. In a field with too few women, Angela Altair is the stand out candidate. Check out the photos and candidate statements.

Metro south east region: Cr Claude Ullin (Stonnington); Cr James Long (Bayside); Cr Coral Ross (Boroondara)
A strong field as all three would serve with distinction. Claude Ullin is a well-connected Liberal who enjoys the political cut and thrust, but again the gender diversity argument is pretty strong and Carol Ross is a good performer.

Interface region: Cr Mary Lalios (Whittlesea) vs Cr Ros Spence (Hume)
The only region with a guaranteed female board representative and we're endorsing Mary Lalios who did a good job as Whittlesea mayor over the past two years. Mary explosively departed from the ruling Socialist Left faction to secure her second year as mayor which makes the MAV board contest especially interesting because Ros Spence's partner is Kosmos Samaras, the leading SL factional figure and veteran Kim Carr staffer. Putting all the factional rubbish to one side, Cr Lalios has the runs on the board as a two-time mayor whereas Cr Spence is only into her third year as a councillor and hasn't yet risen above deputy mayor, although she does also have the experience of electorate office work for a Socialist Left faction state MP, Liz Beattie.

Rural north east region: Cr Peter Joyce (Towong) vs Cr Lisa Mahood (Wodonga)
Cr Joyce is a genuine independent who is well placed to defeat Labor's veteran Lisa Mahood who has a strange factional association with National Party presidential candidate Reid Mather. The two have been campaigning together in regional Victoria over recent days.

Rural south central region: Cr David Clark (Pyrenees) vs Cr Andrew Richards (Greater Geelong)
Labor's Cr Richards is a first time MAV delegate who has knocked off incumbent MAV director and fellow Laborite Jan Farrell. This was a more successful coup for the former unionist and Socialist Left member who came a cropper with his own faction in 2009 after trying to knock off machine women Maria Vamvakinou, the Federal SL member for Calwell, as this article explains. In terms of why Richards landed the MAV gig at Geelong, it seems the Labor bruvvas weren't too happy about Farrell skiting that she'd helped Liberal councillor Andrew Katos knock off former Geelong Labor mayor Michael Crutchfield from the state seat of South Barwon at last November's election. Farrell is now said to be playing pay-back by encouraging other delegates in the region to support Pyrenees farmer and four time mayor David Clark, who is considered likely to succeed and a worthy choice. Jan Farrell has played an interesting game during the MAV campaign. She sent an email my way a couple of days back claiming she was "appalled at the gutter politics" in Geoff Gough's letter endorsing Bill McArthur. Since when has disclosing someone's political affiliation been gutter politics? The other oddity of Farrell's position has been her alliance with National Party member Reid Mather and Labor's Lisa Mahood. And it has also been quite strange that she was simultaneously a paid finance officer at the VLGA and a member of the MAV audit committee. Given that these two peak bodies are considered competitors, maybe it is time for Jan to completely depart the MAV and focus on her role at the VLGA.

Rural north west region: Cr Gary Norton (Swan Hill); Cr Reid Mather (Buloke); Cr Michael Gawith (Hindmarsh)
This one was quite interesting at the forum last night because I asked Reid whether the two challengers to his position suggested he wasn't performing that well as a regional representative. The five time Buloke mayor rejected this analysis and said he'd thought it was a preferential voting system in the regions and he was only trying to assist his running mate, Gary Norton, who provided the thinnest candidate statement of anyone in the state. It does seem unfair that councils who vote for Reid in the regional ballot will have those votes discarded if he is elected President. Reid's biggest problem is that he has the well-credentialled Michael Gawith from Hindmarsh running as a genuine challenger to his regional position, so it is possible he may be removed from the board altogether. Bill McArthur wasn't too subtle in his criticism saying that he was only a candidate for President and wasn't having a bet each way by also running for the board. Unlike Jane Rowe, Reid Mather didn't bother to submit different platform for the two elections, as you can see here and here.

Rural Gippsland region: Cr Jane Rowe (East Gippsland); Cr Jeff Amos (Wellington).
Jane Rowe has been a solid contributor at the MAV as country vice-president and is considered the more likely challenger to the incumbent President. However, she's also potentially in trouble for her regional board seat because former MAV director and two time Wellington mayor Jeff Amos is running hard. Rowe defeated Amos 4 years ago but the tables are likely to be turned this time. For ALP factional reasons I don't fathom, there hasn't been a lot of unity on the MAV board among Labor delegates. For instance, Geoff Lake, the former MAV President and most likely successor to Simon Crean in Hotham, appears to be more closely aligned with Bill McArthur. Whilst Reid Mather has been doing plenty of kilometres visiting councils seeking support, Jane Rowe's campaigning has been hampered by a family illness, which kept her away from the Melbourne forum last night. Given that the MAV hasn't had a female President for years, it would be a great move for gender diversity, but it also wouldn't make a lot of sense to install a Labor President just after Labor lost office. Jane Rowe emailed me to say there were some factual errors in the Gough letter but she's pursued this through a complaint to the returning officer rather than pointing out the actual errors. Apparently, Jane didn't run in the recent state election, but she certainly did stand for Labor in the Federal seat of Gippsland in 2007 and was mentioned in the media as a contender for preselection in the by-election when Peter McGauran quit in 2008 but never formally nominated. There's no denying Jane Rowe is an active card carrying Labor member and former candidate, so I'm struggling to see what the fuss is all about.

Naming the MAV Dream Team board

All up, this is the board I reckon would best serve the MAV over the next two years:

President: Bill McArthur
Geoff Gough
Ken Gale
Geoff Lake
Rod Fyffe
Coral Ross
David Clark
Peter Joyce
Gaetano Greco
Angela Altair
Mary Lalios
Michael Gawith
Jane Rowe

That would represent an infusion of 7 new directors whilst retaining the best of the incumbents, plus plenty of corporate memory through the likes of Rod Fyffe, Geoff Gough and Geoff Lake. The political balance would be reasonable with Labor just held to a minority and there would be four women directors.

If delegates really wanted a change of leadership, I'd be going with Jane Rowe ahead of Reid Mather, but for mine, Bill McArthur is a respected independent figure worthy of support for another two years as President.

We'll report back on the outcome once it is known in early March.

Herald Sun refuses to publish defence of council CEO salaries

Despite supposedly believing in free speech and open debate, the Herald Sun refused to publish this letter submitted last week drawing attention to the ridiculous salary paid to CEO Rupert Murdoch as the paper continues to attack council CEO pay.

The Herald Sun was very quick to draw attention to the populist but shallow motion by a group of councillors at Hobsons Bay attempting to regulate CEO pay in the local government sector.

Comparing council CEO pay with what the PM and Premier gets is not a fair comparison because it ignores the enormous post-employment benefits that will flow to Julia Gillard and Ted Baillieu through staffed offices, cars, drivers, pensions and travel entitlements.

That said, Australia's politicians at all three levels of government are massively underpaid when considering their responsibilities.

A fairer comparison would be to look at the private sector. For instance, Herald Sun proprietor Rupert Murdoch was paid $US16.8 million in 2009-10 - a figure almost equivalent to the total amount paid to all 79 council CEOs in Victoria.

Stephen Mayne
City of Manningham councillor

Even worse, they refused to publish an online comment defending council CEO pay when there were 12 comments published blasting them. How unfair is that to allow punters to spray councils but then censor out a comment by an elected councillor?

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That's all for now.

Do ya best, Stephen Mayne

* The Mayne Report is a multi-media governance website published by journalist, shareholder activist, Crikey founder and Manningham councillor Stephen Mayne with occasional email editions. To unsubscribe from the emails click here.