A regional Victorian councillor proposing to be a ‘fly-in fly-out’ mayor while working interstate has refused calls to resign.
Ararat Rural City Mayor Glenda McLean has been claiming the roughly $57,000 mayoral allowance while working a second job about 2500 kilometres away at the North West Health Service in rural Queensland.
At Tuesday night’s council meeting, councillors voted for a motion of no confidence in the mayor and called on her to resign, saying her position was untenable.
Cr McLean was present at the meeting and refused to step down from her position but said she would “consider” the motion.
“At the ripe old age of being closer to 70 rather than 60, I’m having a great time contributing to society via the medical stream,” she said.
“I have places to stop in other parts of the country, so I’m turning into a grand old FIFO in some senses.”
Councillor Bill Braithwaite said the mayor had been absent for seven weeks without explanation and had made the council a subject for ridicule.
“The position is untenable, our council has been made a laughing stock,” Cr Braithwaite said.
“You can’t perform the role of mayor or councillor from Mount Isa. The community simply deserves better than that.”
Councillor Jo Armstrong said the mayor had held the community in contempt by not being transparent about her plans.
“I’m concerned for the hurt that has been brought to this community, the stress people are feeling, the uncertainty about the direction of this council.
“We are really feeling we are lacking in leadership and have done for quite some period of time.”
The Local Government Association of Victoria confirmed it was legal for mayors to work a second job as long as it was not in a state or federal MP’s office.
Cr McLean has failed to attend recent council briefings in person and had contributed by teleconferencing but is bound by rules to attend council meetings in person.
‘A weeping sore for Ararat’
Municipal Association of Victoria chief executive Rob Spence said Ararat was facing a “question of leadership”, but he did not think the state government was yet able to intervene under the Local Government Act.
“The mayor is supposed to be, under the Act, providing guidance to councillors on their role, acting as principal spokesperson – which I would assume in this case is not happening,” he said.
“As well as supporting good working relationships internally, and carrying out the civic and ceremonial duties of mayor, which again I assume is not happening.
“It’s hard to do it when you’re in Mount Isa and well distant from Ararat.”
Mr Spence said Cr McLean’s leadership issues would “be a weeping sore that the community of Ararat and council is going to struggle with” until her term was due to end in November.
“Local Government’s driving overall objective is to be local and accessible, and I find it hard to see how you can be accessible when you are living in Mount Isa,” he said.
Mr Spence said Cr McLean was still entitled to receive her mayoral allowance, which a 2016 review found to be about $57,000.
Local businesses call for certainty
Ararat business owner David Hosking was the first person to publicly raise concerns about Cr McLean’s location, on ABC Local Radio last week.
“What we’re finding is that a lot of people now are choosing not to live here,” he said.
“They’re working here and living in places like Ballarat and Beaufort. Let’s call a spade a spade, we’re a joke at the moment.”
Ararat business owner and Lake Bolac resident Rick Westgarth said he was disappointed in the mayor’s decision.
“I’m hoping she goes away and has a think about it and realises the best thing for the community is for her to step down,” he said.
“I don’t think you can fly-in fly-out. I think it would be very difficult as a councillor and I think it’s almost impossible as a mayor.
“As a resident if I needed to speak to the mayor, I can’t wait for the next time she flies in.”
Ararat resident Christine Eade has been a ratepayer in the regional city for 60 years.
“I hoped she would have had more integrity. I think the Ararat ratepayers deserve better.”
“She should know what she’s doing isn’t in the interest of the Ararat ratepayer.”