It was with great intrigue that I read an article during the week that revealed that the former Mayor of Sutherland Shire, Clr Kent Johns, had decided not to stand for re-election to Mayor this week. Fairfax Media ‘revealed’ that developers, home owners and businesses with Liberal Party connections were shown special treatment by Clr Johns. During his first and only year as Mayor, the Council was restructured which resulted in the sacking of their most senior directors and the abolition of their internal ombudsman. Clr Johns was pushing for radical new planning rules that would increase the density of building across the shire which would result in windfalls on a select list of property owners. Clr Johns explained his reason for not standing for re-election by saying that “I should not be a lightning rod for this Council and therefore I won’t be standing as Mayor.” He continued by saying that he had made a lot of enemies by “trying to change the culture of the Council too quickly.”

There may be a lot more to the story that has yet to be revealed but the main aspect that grabbed my attention was the power that the media gave to the Mayor. I believe it would be difficult for this Mayor, or any Mayor, to have the power the media have attributed to him.

If, in this example, the accusations are correct, I believe the Council – rather than the Mayor – would be at fault. The power of any Mayor in NSW is really driven by the Council. Mayors don’t have the power to over-ride or ignore Council resolutions. Therefore the strength – or weakness – of any Mayor really lies in the strength of the Council. A Mayor, for example, does not have the power to sack senior directors. Technically, a Mayor cannot even ‘direct’ Council staff. It has been twenty years since the Act was changed to prevent the anecdotal stories of Aldermen having 500m of bitumen in front of their driveway along a country dirt road. On a day to day basis, a Mayor can only direct the General Manager – but he can’t be directed to go and sack staff! The best a Mayor could do in relation to staff would be to have a Council resolution – supported by the majority of Councillors – to sack a General Manager. All of this is a good thing because it ensures that ultimate power is not given to one person because, as we all know, ultimate power corrupts ultimately.

What really brought this concept home to me – and perhaps demonstrated a general lack of understanding – was a question I was recently asked. When I was recently given the great honour by my fellow Councillors to continue on as Mayor for another year, I was asked “what are my plans for the next year?” To a certain extent, my plans are irrelevant. What really matters is what the community wants and what Councillors – as a collective – want. Sure, I have one vote on Council and I can talk to my fellow Councillors and tell them about my ideas but ultimately if my ideas aren’t good enough to gain a majority at a Council meeting, they won’t occur.

So I will answer a slightly different question. What are Council’s significant plans over the next twelve months? A modern-day Council will typically have a Community Strategic Plan to help guide outcomes and Dubbo City Council is no different in this regard. We need to ensure that our plans closely align with our CSP.

One exciting project that Dubbo will see come to fruition over the next twelve months is the Barden Park Athletics Facility. This is a project that started several years ago and it will be wonderful to see it finished by August 2014. This is a $6.1 million facility that was mostly funded by the Federal Government with help from the State Government and Council. It will benefit our young athletes and bring more people into Dubbo. We need to deliver this project on-tie and on-budget. Of course most people are aware that we have the City-Country match in Dubbo next year. It might be easy for this Council to sit on our hands and pat ourselves on the back about the 15,000 people that will come to Dubbo. On the contrary, our intention is to work out a number of ways to maximise the benefits to our economy through packages and exposure of our City across the Eastern seaboard. Council will also continue to focus on the Showground and increase the benefits to our community. The Showground booking numbers have dwindled over the last ten years and we need to address this issue and this will be a major focus for Council over the next year. Even though they are outside complete control of Council, we will also continue to work on addressing the housing shortage and continue to work with the State Government to continue the upgrade of the hospital. Obviously there are many basics in the background that will continue on. Sewerage will continue to be treated. Water will continue to be delivered. Rubbish will be collected.

These are not my individual ideas but the will of the Council – my job is to simply be the captain of a functioning progressive team.

Tell me if you think the power distribution in a Council seems about right at

Clr Mathew Dickerson

Mayor of the City of Dubbo


Scroll to Top