With the council election results official, there is some intense learning ahead for both the new and re-elected Shoalhaven City councillors. For the six new councillors, there are myriad rules, regulations and procedures to become familiar with. For the returning representatives, there’s a whole new culture to become accustomed to.
Now the dust has settled on a vigorous, at times poisonous campaign and the chapter closed on a four-year term marked by acrimony and accusations of exclusion for the minority councillors, the tables have turned.
The challenge for the new councillors is to work together with civility and respect to achieve consensus. That means working not only with the reinvigorated Shoalhaven Independents but with the battered and bruised Team Gash as well.
Each group is there to represent its constituents and, as such, each needs to be heard. Such a fundamental change in the local political landscape is rendered worthless if the bad old ways of isolating councillors from decision making are allowed back into the chamber.
Each group has its own priorities and perspectives on local issues. It’s important all are heard in open debate. It’s equally important there is room for compromise and negotiation. The last thing the community wants is a council crippled by inertia because agreement cannot be reached.
Shoalhaven Mayor Amanda Findley, while pleased with the result, is also realistic. She has said her victory was not about a widespread and sudden embrace of Greens ideology but rather because she was “the least worst candidate”. She says she’s under no illusion there is a clear mandate. A mandate in her view is not a 51 per cent majority.
In her address to a candidates forum in Ulladulla in the week of the election, she stressed the need for councillors to work together. While much of the council process appeared combative, many decisions were made unanimously, she told the gathering.
The community has pinned its hopes on Cr Findley’s leadership to steer the council towards inclusion, efficiency and transparency.
It is obvious she will have to navigate the new council through some tricky territory in this next term. There will be new councillors with unrealistic expectations. There is still a restive community, angry about the state of the roads. There are fears of big rates rises.
It will be a tough gig.