Charlie Sheahan is the new mayor of the Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council after the mayoral election was held at an extraordinary meeting of council 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 spoke 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, borrowing the money, and a special rate variation. 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 pervious council that he led as mayor, while reflecting on a tough and challenging term.
“We all worked well together, we had a hell of a lot of hard decisions to make and I think the good thing about our council was that we made those decisions where a lot of other merged councils are in terrible financial positions and haven’t made any of those hard decisions that we made, having to go for an SRV and raise our fees and charges,” Cr McAlister said.
“I think a demerger is the best overall result for everyone. We’re sitting here losing $33 million over the last five years, plus putting our rates up 53.5 per cent and our fees and charges up 30 per cent, but we had to make those decisions to stop us from being insolvent and I’m really proud of the council last term for getting behind those decisions. We saw the issues early and went in to fix them.
“Whichever way the vote goes today, I know Charlie has his heart in both communities, and if he gets up, I wish him all the best and I will certainly congratulate him.”
Cr McAlister became mayor of Gundagai Shire Council in 2010 and remained in the position until the council was dissolved by the State Government in May of 2016. He was then voted in as the first Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council mayor in September of 2017.
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.