OPINION | Trio at our local helm

LEADING US INTO THE FUTURE: Camden's Liberal Mayor Lara Symkowiak, Wollondilly's independent mayor Judy Hannan, and Campbelltown's Labor mayor George Brticevic.
LEADING US INTO THE FUTURE: Camden's Liberal Mayor Lara Symkowiak, Wollondilly's independent mayor Judy Hannan, and Campbelltown's Labor mayor George Brticevic.

THE OLD joke says that instead of giving politicians the keys to the city, we might be best to change the locks.

But I offer a very genuine and hearty congratulations to our three local mayors as they saddle up for the next term. May they lead us with a unity, restraint and wisdom that makes Solomon blush.

There were no surprises at Campbelltown (where Labor is so strong that Chuck Norris is also blushing) and George Brticevic should stay on as mayor until Campbelltown’s bicentenary year of 2020.

That will create a stability not seen since since the long stint of Gordon Fetterplace in the 1970s and 1980s – and a change from the “pass-the-parcel” mayorships that have so shaped recent years.

The fact that Cr Brticevic is no household name yet might be a mark in his favour – he’s hardly a ranting, headline-grabbing egoist – but his quietly measured style should give Campbelltown a dignified spokesman to the outside world.

My biggest concern is that I hate political bloc voting – might is not always right (dunno about you, but I’m still a naive idealist who thinks decisions should be based on local needs and facts, not by toeing some big party line). Please, George, tread carefully.

But credit where credit is due…Campbelltown’s recent Labor councillors have sometimes voted against each other on the issue at hand, and stood up loudly against the previous (appalling) Labor state government.

And when Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell created Dharawal National Park, Labor councillors held a press call to publicly praise him. I hope that fair dinkum-ness continues under George. 

Council meetings don’t need to be petty nastiness and screw-you antics.

I was happy to see the always-classy Judy Hannan, unanimously elected by the Picton-based council as the new mayor of Wollondilly.

Mayor Simon Landow (who scored a huge personal vote at the election) declined to stand again, citing family reasons, and we can all respect that.

I might not have always agreed with Judy, but I have always respected and liked her a lot. An experienced hand in local government, she should avoid rookie mistakes and is delightfully free of any political masters.

She has hit the ground running, wanting the councillors in the shire working more as a team. So, she wants to abolish the mayor’s office in favour of a shared area to be used by all councillors as a collaborative group. Wow.

That notion of all councillors working as one collaborative group might be harder to achieve in glaringly divided Camden Council.

Going by a flood of negative online comments and conversations I’ve overheard around Camden, it seems the re-election of Liberal mayor Lara Symkowiak is as polarising in the community as in the council itself.

I will say, Lara is made of strong stuff, because some of that online comment is way, way too nasty. Camden is perhaps also merely going through the same growing pains that Campbelltown went through in the 1980s, when it was also torn by division. I know Cr Symkowiak is not my biggest fan, but I truly wish her all the best for the next two years. And I disagree that it has to be – as some of her angry critics suggest – “more of the same”.

What if the mayor can extend the olive branch to foes, somehow unlock the polarisation of endless 5-4 votes and make excellent community groups such as Camden Historical Society feel “truly” consulted? It’s not impossible – and there is absolutely no doubting Lara’s strong will and robust intellect.

Leadership is a tough gig.

Regardless of all these different shades of politics, it is a healthier outcome for representative equality, with women now mayors of both Camden and Wollondilly, Therese Fedeli deputy at Camden and Meg Oates deputy in Campbelltown.

Still not good enough. It’s a scandal that half the population is so-poorly numbered in the ranks of not only local government, but state and federal too.