Ward decision

The Adelaide Hills Council’s representation system review has taken a remarkable turn, with the Electoral Commissioner throwing out the council’s decision based on a seemingly minor technicality.
The council can’t be blamed for the mistake, which was a matter of interpretation, but the Commissioner’s decision could cost it – and the community – months of work and thousands of dollars.
With elected members divided over the matter and a decision made despite clear opposition from constituents, the representation review has been messy from the beginning.
And the most recent development has only added to that.
But there are two sides to every coin, and while the council may be back to square one in the representation review, it has also been given a rare opportunity to set right a decision that has undoubtedly cost the trust of many of its constituents.
Mayor Bill Spragg and the six councillors who voted against the ward system may have believed abolishing wards was in the best interest of the region, but there’s no doubt that opposing the community’s wishes has damaged the council’s brand.
If the reasons for abolishing wards were so great that half the elected members were prepared to ignore the wishes of their constituents (94% of community respondents said ‘no’ to the proposed changes), then why were those same councillors unable to convince the community of the benefit of the change to the system?
The council is still awaiting direction about how to proceed with the review, but if it is required to re-start the consultation process, it’s going to have to work hard to convince residents that their feedback matters.
It will be interesting to see whether the public outcry in the wake of the council’s decision has been enough to change the mind of any of the councillors in the no-ward camp.
If no-one changes the decision will be up to the Mayor alone.
But either way, if elected members want any hope of restoring the trust of Hills residents, they’re going to have to build a more convincing case for the abolition of the ward system, or concede defeat and give the people what they want – a ward system and a council they can trust.