Sheahan mayor, Bowden deputy

Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council mayor Charlie Sheahan and deputy mayor Leigh Bowden.
The new Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council (left to right) Cr David Graham, Cr Trevor Glover, Cr Abb McAlister, Cr Penny Nicholson, Cr Logan Collins, deputy mayor Leigh Bowden, mayor Charlie Sheahan, Cr Gil Kelly and Cr Les Boyd.

Charlie Sheahan is the new mayor of the Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council after the mayoral election was held at an extraordinary meeting in Gundagai on Monday night.

Former mayor Abb McAlister was the only other nominee. 

Cr Sheahan won the vote, six votes to three.

Cr Leigh Bowden is deputy mayor after defeating fellow nominee Cr Gil Kelly, five votes to four.

While acknowledging the work that Cr McAlister put in as mayor over what he described as a “very, very difficult last term”, Cr Sheahan said it is now time for “new leadership and a new direction”.

“It is a humbling experience to be elected as mayor of Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council and I acknowledge the tremendous work that Cr McAlister has put in over the last four years and also the other incumbent councillors and the councillors who no longer are on council,” he said.

“It was a difficult time and a lot of issues that we had to face with a lot of hard decisions we had to make. But it is time for a change and time to move forward.”

Cr Sheahan said a good council comes from a strong team, promising that he will be “big on team”. 

“I will focus on building a  strong team that will best deliver services for our communities,” he said.

“Teamship doesn’t mean that we have to agree on everything – quite the opposite. Diversity and difference will deliver new and fresh   outcomes. 

“What teamship requires though is respect. Each and every one of us elected councillors has received a mandate from the community to represent them. That mandate was given out of respect from those who voted for us. 

“It is very personal when people vote for you. It is a truly humbling honour, and it is given out of personal respect for each one of us. We owe each other that same personal respect because if we don’t, then we are failing to respect our community.”

Going into the new term, Cr Sheahan said the council’s focus needs to be on moving forward, addressing the problems it faces and capitalising on the opportunities that are present.

“With the future abattoir opening and inland rail development coming on board in the next 12 months or so, we need to prioritise the current housing and accommodation shortage as quickly as possible,” he said.

“As planning and development, we have to ensure infrastructure is current and able to cope with growth and development.

“Both Gundagai and Cootamundra are experiencing housing shortages. Our region is very popular with moving populations getting away from the cities, and we have to capitalise on this by planning and enabling growth.

“This has to be our main focus and priority along with addressing the financial position that the council is facing.”

Having a strong family connection to both Cootamundra and Gundagai, and having opposed the amalgamation from the outset, Cr Sheahan said he is sure that the council agrees that a demerger would be the best outcome for both communities.

“However, we can’t just sit back and say that until there is a demerger there is no way forward. We have to find a way forward,” he said.

“The previous council has done all that was possible to present a sound case, showing that to return to our previous councils for Gundagai and Cootamundra would be in the best interests of our communities. Therefore, for this council to commit further resources and ratepayer money towards a demerger should require a very strong case.”

Speaking before the vote, Cr David Graham addressed the council on why he believed Cr McAlister should be reinstated as mayor.

“He’s got the experience, he topped the poll, he has a great relationship with ratepayers, and he’s been an excellent leader during the last term under very difficult circumstances, particularly after the disastrous start with our administrators and the issue with the [former] general manager, and the rate harmonisation and special rate variation, just to name a few,” Cr Graham said. 

“He has a great rapport with all politicians, and he is totally non-political. He’s passionate about the local area and has always been a very good team player with the ability to solve issues.

“He’s had the ability to resource state and federal funding, with a track record second to none. He also understands council financing and the strategic ways to get projects up. He was the instigator for Gundagai’s new main street, he suggested we borrow $4 million dollars to get the Coota water going, and he has also been a big pusher to make sure that the abattoirs is going to deliver in spades for the Cootamundra population.”

Also speaking before the vote, Cr McAlister thanked the previous council that he led as mayor, while reflecting on a tough and challenging term which included what he described as the “hard decision” to apply for a special rate variation that would see rates rise 53.5 per cent over four years, just to keep the council from insolvency.

Speaking after the vote, he said it was a pleasure to serve firstly for six years on the Gundagai Shire Council as mayor of his community, and then serve as mayor on the new merged council.

“I’m still passionate about local government and I’m still passionate about seeking a demerger,” he said. 

“We’ve already lost $33 million, and with the special rate rise, people are paying money in extra rates to run a council that’s not working, and that’s money that then won’t be spent in our local economy for our local businesses. 

“In four years’ time when the full rate rise comes in with fees and charges, we’ll be paying $6 million more a year than we were last year, and that’s $6 million going towards running an ill-fated merger where it should be going into the local economy. 

“A demerger is honestly the only way forward for the betterment of both communities. If not, it’s just going to keep costing us more and more money. 

“From our ratepayers’ point of view, it’s by far and away the best thing that should happen.”

BOWDEN WINS DEPUTY MAYOR VOTE

As the newly-elected deputy mayor, Cr Leigh Bowden said the priorities she wants to address are the council’s financial sustainability, a robust economic development, housing availability, and the impacts of climate change. 

“I would also like to see the council develop projects to make money in addition to saving money,” Cr Bowden said. 

“However, as part of a leadership team, I would seek out and include the opinions of all councillors on the matters that face us. 

“Importantly, all councillors need to be kept abreast of the issues that are discussed at forums outside council, for example REROC and the Country Mayors Association, but also informed on all matters that are the responsibility of council. 

“We cannot speak to our constituents if we ourselves are not informed.

“Council, the governing body, is a team, as the mayor has said. We, the elected representatives, must work together to bring about what is best for our communities.”

With a background in community development both as a practitioner and as an academic, Cr Bowden said she has considerable skill in team building, having worked as the CEO and community relations manager for two community organisations. She also has experience in running a business. 

“I have high-level communication skills and am an adept and effective networker, able to engage with all stakeholders, community members, including marginalised groups, community leaders, government officials and politicians,” she said. 

“Most importantly, being retired, I have time and I am available.”

During her last term on the council, she was the official councillor representative on the Cootamundra Tourism Action Group advisory committee, the Cootamundra Youth Council, the Arts Centre Cootamundra 355 committee, the Stockinbingal Elwood’s Hall 355 committee, the Riverina Regional Library advisory committee, the Eastern Riverina Arts advisory committee and the Cootamundra Development Corporation. 

“I was also the appointed council representative to the Inland Rail Community Consultative committee,” Cr Bowden said. 

“In an unofficial capacity, I have been a council representative with the Cootamundra Aboriginal Working Party and for a time, the Gundagai Cultural Group at their request. I was a member of the general manager’s selection panel and have continued to be part of the general manager’s review panel. 

“I have been a conscientious and active councillor, attending all council meetings and councillor workshops and community events in both Cootamundra and Gundagai.”

The new deputy mayor has been on the Executive of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association (ALGWA) NSW and has spoken at several forums state-wide to encourage more women to stand for council. 

“With Cr Nicholson, I organised two ALGWA forums in Cootamundra and Gundagai in 2019 and last year,” she said.

“I have undertaken several courses of training over the past term. The most significant was a four-day course executive certificate for elected representatives run by the University of Technology Sydney in conjunction with Local Government NSW. This course provided an overview of all the areas that councillors need to understand. 

“I have attended three Local Government NSW conferences and one Australian Local Government Assembly. At those conferences I attended the ALGWA networking breakfasts. I mention this because I am familiar with how these conferences run and how important they are in terms of progressing the interests of local government. 

“In March 2018 I delivered a paper at the ALGWA conference, hosted by Gundagai. It was called ‘Feminism, Social Justice, a Tree Change and Local Government, a Reflection’. In it, I commented that for me, being on Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council was like being hurtled back in time 40 years. 

“I am pleased to say that there has been much improvement during the last four years in the acknowledgement and inclusion of women. It was disappointing that there were not more women candidates in our local government area in the last election.”

Cr Bowden said it is the role of the leadership team to guide, encourage and mentor new councillors. 

“Being a new councillor is a steep learning curve and somewhat overwhelming,” she said.

“I’m looking forward to working with you all as part of a new team.”

Monday’s mayoral election took place after councillors were sworn in for the new term which runs from January 2022 to September 2023.

The mayor and deputy mayor were elected by method of ordinary (secret) ballot.

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