There will be a changing of the guard in Wagga Wagga as three experienced councillors step aside at the 4 December local government elections, paving the way for a new-look council.
Current mayor Greg Conkey will not be seeking re-election after nine years on council, while seven-time mayor Kerry Pascoe, first elected in 2004, and Yvonne Braid, who joined the council in 2008, have also decided to call it a day.
Paul Funnell, who controversially resigned from council earlier this year, will be standing again as the third candidate on a six-member ticket headed by Lake Albert advocate Mick Henderson.
And while the lake is full to overflowing at the moment, the centrepiece of the city’s water recreation is likely to once again be a hot topic at these elections.
Other issues likely to be debated in the lead-up to the December poll will be the ongoing saga of a levee bank to protect North Wagga and the deterioration of local roads which have been severely impacted by heavy rains.
With just nine seats available on the new council, it promises to be a keenly contested election.
The last election in 2016 saw 53 people put their names forward but this time around just 43 will be seeking support from residents.
As well as eight groups offering above-the-line voting options, there are a further five ungrouped candidates which, if history is any indication, will have a difficult time securing enough votes to gain a seat at the table.
In the 2017 election, all but two councillors were elected from groups with high-profile candidate Greg Conkey being elected in seventh place having secured 1114 first preference votes – the third highest of any individual candidate.
The only other person elected from the ungrouped candidates was Dallas Tout, who polled 852 votes and was the last person elected to the council.
Just two groups secured more than one seat – Rod Kendall’s 2099 votes was enough to drag Tim Koschel (532 votes) into the council chamber, while Country Labor secured the second highest group vote which led to the election of Vanessa Keenan who held the number two position on the ticket but polled just 124 first preference votes.
The departure of Crs Pascoe, Conkey and Braid – and the almost 2800 first-preference votes they attracted – may open the door for some additional grouped candidates to be elected.
Drought-proofing Lake Albert has continued as one of the major issues and while the council continues to work on solutions, the impatience of Wagga Boat Club Commodore Mick Henderson has seen him continue a relentless campaign to highlight the issue.
Polling 388 first-preference votes at the 2017 election, Mr Henderson’s profile has lifted significantly due to the ongoing battle over the lake’s health, and he now leads a ticket including former councillor Funnell (1374 votes) and Richard Foley (491 votes).
Frustrations over local roads are also likely to gain plenty of attention in the campaign.
Heavy rains have caused significant damage and the moonscape of potholes and craters is a constant source of frustration to motorists, the council struggling to keep up with the growing maintenance schedule.
The reconstruction of one of the city’s major thoroughfares – Kooringal Rd – has also found itself at the centre of controversy in the council chamber.
The project has been delayed a number of times – was started and then postponed – and now faces a million-dollar blowout.
After years of planning and delay, the levee bank protecting the city from Murrumbidgee flooding has been completed but North Wagga remains unprotected as designs for its upgrade remain delayed.
North Wagga residents have long been critics of the council’s inaction on this issue and is sure to once again become a central point of debate among candidates.
Climate change may also find its way back onto the campaign agenda – in the past term creating perhaps the most divisive period in the council’s recent history when Country Labor councillors joined with Mayor Conkey and Deputy Mayor Tout to declare a climate emergency.
Rescission motions and at times personal attacks between councillors followed, which saw weeks of disruption and exposed significant cracks in policy priorities between the council members.
Voters will also have the chance to vote on a referendum which may see the introduction of a popularly elected mayor for four years replacing the current system where the mayor is elected for two years by fellow councillors.
If successful, the popular election of the mayor will commence in 2025 and will allow candidates to nominate only for the mayor position, only for a councillor role or for both.
Candidates for the 4 December election
- Grouped (candidates listed in order of their position on the ticket)
- Group A – Greens: Jennifer McKinnon, Sarah Pollard-Williams, George Benedyka, Emma Rush, Eric Kaiser.
- Group B – Country Labor: Dan Hayes*, Amelia Parkins, Vanessa Keenan*, Mark Jeffreson, Sophie Kurylowicz.
- Group C – No affiliation: Dallas Tout*, Maddison Smith, Michael Small, Phong Tiwangce, Susan Thomas.
- Group D – No affiliation: Rod Kendall*, Rory McKenzie, Razia Shaik, Samuel Avo, Fetzy Mathew.
- Group E – No affiliation: Georgie Davies, Karen Butts, Charlie Cull, Steve Taylor, Duncan Farquhar.
- Group F – No affiliation: Rupinder Kaur, Fiona Ziff.
- Group G – No affiliation: Michael Henderson, Richard Foley, Paul Funnell**, Chris Ingram, Graham Falconer, Jacinta Evans.
- Group H – No affiliation: Tim Koschel*, Alexandra Cesnik, Katharine Graham, David Wilkes, Sophie Mason.
- Ungrouped candidates: Rosina Gordon, Robert Sinclair, Daniel Vieira, Richard Salcole, Robin Dennis.
* Sitting councillors.
** Mr Funnell resigned from council in July.