22 December 2021

New councillors welcomed in Bega Valley, with residents also set to choose their own mayor

| Albert McKnight
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Karen Wright

At 28, Karen Wright is believed to be the youngest councillor elected to the Bega Valley Shire. Photo: Supplied

The results for the 2021 local government election are in with the nine new councillors announced for the Bega Valley Shire Council and voters overwhelming saying they want to choose their mayor.

According to the NSW Electoral Commission, about 88 per cent of voters turned out to vote in the election which had a field of 18 candidates.

Held at the start of December, the field consisted mostly of independents with only Labor and the Greens running party tickets.

One from each of those parties, Helen O’Neil and Cathy Griff respectively, were elected, with the latter returning from the last council term.

The other re-elected councillors are Mitch Nadin, Russell Fitzpatrick, Tony Allen and Liz Seckold, with other newcomers being Karen Wright, David Porter and Joy Robin.

A referendum asked voters if the Bega Valley Shire should have a popularly-elected mayor from 2024 and the result was a resounding yes with almost 73 per cent answering in the affirmative.

This means from 2024, the Bega Valley Shire will have a popularly-elected mayor replacing the previous system where councillors elected the mayor.

It is believed 28-year-old Ms Wright is the youngest person elected as a Bega Valley Shire councillor.
“Having worked so hard and seeing the results of that, and that the community has faith in me as their representative, is an amazing feeling,” she said.

The biggest issue she wants to focus on is the housing crisis, saying there are many people currently experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness.

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For instance, Ms Wright wanted to start the conversation on Airbnb capping again and also wanted to focus on youth – such as re-establishing the region’s youth council.

Incoming Labor councillor Ms O’Neil was “so proud” that her whole team received the confidence of voters.

“I really think it reflects there was a mood for change,” she said.

She also said the number one issue she wanted to focus on once the council term began was affordable housing.

Council had recently put out a draft housing strategy which had some “really good, common sense ideas”, she said.

Ms O’Neill also said she had promised, as part of a Labor team, that she would treat other councillors and staff with respect.

Council’s acting CEO Anthony McMahon welcomed the incoming councillors and thanked the outgoing councillors – Jo Dodds and Robyn Bain who chose not to run again this year – for their dedication and commitment over the last five years.

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“Representing and advocating for the needs and wants of our community, as well as balancing those needs and wants against the limitations of budgets and resourcing, is a challenging but rewarding task,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what can be achieved over this next term of council.”

The first official meeting of the new council will be on 11 January 2022 and will include the election of the mayor and deputy mayor.

Due to the extension of the last term of council by the Office of Local Government, this new term of council will be two years and nine months, ending in September 2024, rather than the usual four years.

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