The wheels of democracy are starting to spin again across the High Country with nominations now open for candidates at the September 9 Local Council Election.
Eleven councilors will sit in the chamber of the merged Snowy Monaro Regional Council, which has been run for the past 15 months by former Cooma Mayor, Dean Lynch.
Ultimately though final decisions fell to Mr Lynch, an arrangement put in place by the NSW Government and one many have described as undemocratic.
Mr Lynch, who says he won’t be standing on September 9 says he understands the criticism but has enjoyed the opportunity despite feeling burnt out.
He says the whole merger process has got people thinking more about local government and perhaps has inspired some locals to stand for election.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of new faces,” Mr Lynch says.
Nominations opened on Monday and will close at Midday on Wednesday, August 9 through the Electoral Commission on NSW.
In the lead-up, Snowy Monaro Regional Council held candidate info sessions in Jindabyne, Berridale, Cooma, and Bombala.
Leanne Atkinson sat on Snowy River Shire Council between 1999 and 2003 and has stood as a Labor candidate for the NSW Parliament in the seat of Bega a number of times since, she says it can feel like a ‘leap of faith’ when you first put your name forward for election.
“You really aren’t sure what you are doing at the beginning,” Ms Atkinson told About Regional.
“You need to get the message out about yourself and what differentiates you from other people.”
Ms Atkinson says she went into her first campaign with issues she felt connected to and could speak on.
“I was a young mum, and was very aware of the constraints there were for families in the area and what services were available for them,” she says.
“That was how I went into that first campaign, looking at services for families, for young people, ” she says.
Ms Atkinson says she never considered standing for council until a couple of people suggested it to her.
“I said I can’t see myself doing this, there are all those people sitting around that table, all that procedure, I couldn’t do that.
“The funny thing is that once you are elected you realise that you absolutely can be at that table,” Ms Atkinson says.
And once you are elected what is the job of a new councilor on Snowy Monaro Regional Council?
Ms Atkinson believes the role goes beyond the popular catchphrase of ‘roads, rubbish, and rates’.
“There are a lot of demands on Council, and the role a Councilor is to have a strategic view, to set the tone, and to set the direction,” she says.
“It’s really important to engage effectively with the community.”
The merger process, taking three council areas into one has left smaller communities concerned that they will be over looked by the big new entity shaped by the Baird – Berejiklian Government.
Leanne Atkinson believes it’s incumbent on the eleven new councilors to think beyond their own home town.
“Don’t focus just on the big towns, there are little communities where those people matter and are just as important as the people in the bigger towns,” she says.
“You have to be aware that you are there for the whole community.”
But there is some strategic advice from this Labor stalwart for smaller centres keen to see one of their own elected.
“I have a view that the amalgamations shouldn’t have been forced, but the fact is it’s amalgamated,” Ms Atkinson says.
“The community needs people who are going to move the shire forward in it’s new form.
“Maybe some smaller communities should get together and ask, who is the one person who could represent us well?” she says.
Find a candidate and get the community behind them seems to be the advice.
“I lived in Berridale for a while, and if it was me in a community like that, I’d be pulling people together and saying, okay we want representation on this council, who can we advocate for and increase our chances of getting someone elected,” Ms Atkinson suggests.
Reflecting on her council time, Ms Atkinson says it was one of the best experiences of her life, she is keen to see a diverse range of candidates stand for election on September 9.
“There were lots of little things that I would look at and think, we can do better than that.”
“If you are willing to work you’d be surprised at how much you can achieve,” Ms Atkinson says.