Glenda McLean remains Ararat Rural City mayor despite councillors moving a motion of no confidence over her taking up a job at Mount Isa in north Queensland.
Ararat council chambers’ public gallery was full on Tuesday evening as concerned residents attended to hear the mayor and councillors formally respond to allegations that have made the rounds since late last week.
A motion to declare no confidence in Cr McLean as mayor and a separate motion to call on her to resign were passed by four votes to two.
Cr McLean and Cr Darren Ford were the only two votes against both motions.
Cr McLean moved the meeting on to confidential items following the passage of both motions, requiring the public gallery and journalists to leave the council chambers.
Cr McLean told Fairfax Media in a brief adjournment before confidential council discussions that she “would have to think about” her response to both motions.
Councillors Bill Braithwaite, Jo Armstrong and Peter Beales said in the meeting that Cr McLean’s decision to work interstate and her lack of communication over her circumstances had made her position untenable.
Cr McLean had spent about 18 minutes with fellow councillors in a pre-meeting briefing in which some councillors expected her to clarify her personal situation.
Mount Isa’s North West Health had already confirmed that Cr McLean had taken a job in the hospital in the mining town of about 22,000 people, located 2600 kilometres from Ararat Rural City.
Cr McLean told the ABC on Tuesday that she would propose to be a ‘fly in, fly-out’ mayor.
Deputy Mayor Gwenda Allgood, who like some councillors found about about this proposal via the media, said she had never heard of such an arrangement before.
“I haven’t heard about anybody trying that before in all my years in local government,” Cr Allgood said before the meeting.
When arriving at Ararat’s Shire Hall just after 5pm on Tuesday, Cr McLean said she ‘couldn’t talk’ ahead of the meeting.
Cr Braithwaite used a call for urgent business in the first few minutes of the meeting to request that a motion to declare a vote of no confidence be added to the agenda.
“You have been absent as the chair of council for the past seven weeks,” Cr Braithwaite told the meeting.
“We have not received an adequate explanation, and that lack of an explanation has led this council to be held to ridicule.
“We are once again the laughing stock of local government in regional Victoria and I call a motion of no confidence in the mayor and ask you to resign as both the mayor and a councillor.”
After the move to add the item to the agenda was seconded by Cr Armstrong and passed, the meeting proceeded thorough its planned agenda for about an hour before reaching debate on the no confidence motion.
Cr Braithwaite said it was "very disappointing" that councillors were not told directly about the mayor’s circumstances and that Cr McLean had treated the community with contempt.
Cr Jo Armstrong seconded the motion of no confidence and said she supported Cr Braithwaite's comments.
She said there had been issues for a time between herself and the mayor and the situation had not improved, with the mayor having "willfully brought the council into disrepute"
"I am feeling that we are lacking in leadership,” Cr Armstrong said.
Cr Ford said Cr McLean was in a period of transition and she had experienced a tough time on council, as had other councillors.
Cr Ford revisited the controversy over Ararat Rural City’s move to end the farmer rates discount , promoting calls for a point of order.
Cr Allgood instructed Cr Ford to move his speech back to the matter at hand but he then said there was a "powerful lobby group" trying to undermine the council.
"Who benefits from this motion?" Cr Ford said, apparently making reference to the Victorian Farmers Federation and its campaign to retain farm differential rates.
Cr McLean had been "ostracisd and admonished," according to Cr Ford.
Cr Peter Beales said he had found it strange that the mayor asked for leave over the Australia Day weekend.
He told the meeting that the mayor's latest column in the Ararat Advertiser had been completely out of touch and people had told him she was "delusional".
Speaking against the motion, Cr McLean said it was not normal for people to talk about their job interviews until they get the job.
Cr McLean said she had become a "senior consultant" in the health industry and had seized it "with gusto" despite "negativity and vicimisation".
She said it had been an "interesting meeting" and it had been good to see her "friends and enemies" in attendance
Cr McLean said she came from "farming stock" and had worked very hard and achieved a rates discount for farmers after a drought..
"I'm disappointed with the comments that have been made this evening," she said.
"The commission of inquiry has been hard on all of us."
Cr McLean said had tried to be the voice of the little people despite those who thought it was not a function of local government.
"There is still a disconnect between what council can provided financially and what people's expectations are," she said.
Cr McLean said she was willing to take criticism from councillors on board.
She made no direct response in the chamber after both motions were moved against her and resumed her mayor’s position as chair of the meeting before asking the public to leave for a pre-planned confidential discussion.
One member of the public gallery remarked loudly “suck it up princess” in reference to Cr McLean's notorious comments to the public gallery during a council meeting in May.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first time that Ararat Rural City Council streamed a video of a meeting via Facebook Live.
The video attracted more than 4000 views and almost 500 comments over its 87-minute running time.