Why the Mayor's role is so important
Some people think of the Mayor's position as rather ceremonial, merely attending ribbon cutting ceremonies and chairing meetings. And when it comes time to vote on any matter in a council meeting, the Mayor has one vote just like all the other councillors.
But unlike the councillors, the Mayor gets a full time wage and an office at the City. He or she engages with the CEO and staff at the City more or less on a daily basis. His or her attitude and way of doing things can create a culture in the City that flows throughout the entire organisation, in a way that a councillor cannot. If the Mayor is dictatorial, that attitude may permeate throughout the City staff. If the Mayor is consultative, that too can spread.
Staff within the City look to the Mayor on how to engage with the public and the media, and I've personally seen many times where councillors also take cues from the Mayor on different matters. With the overwhelming amount of paperwork that comes to each councillor, many of them are unable to read all of it. The Mayor, however, is better able to stay informed on the different matters the City is dealing with.
But each Mayor also ends up with a large target painted on their back. Councils nationwide are the public's favourite government to blame. Even matters like crime, which are more of a state issue, get thrown at the Council and the Mayor. And as most of us could hardly name two councillors, but we know the name of the Mayor, he/she gets the blame for everything.
And it's a thankless job
When Councils get things right, no one notices. People rarely write letters of thanks to Mayors when they get free parking in the city, nice new libraries, or beautiful foreshores. But if someone wants to build a shop on the foreshore, change the library hours, or put parking metres in, the Mayor hears about it.
So the job requires someone with extremely thick skin, and a genuine love for their city.
So who is Rob Jefferies?
I first met Rob Jefferies in my capacity running Everything Geraldton, when he took over as the CEO at the Midwest Chamber of Commerce and Industry about two and a half years ago.
I got to see him in operation when he joined the Futures Governance Alliance Committee representing the Chamber. The committee was short lived, but it was fascinating to see how effective Rob was in getting viewpoints of the Chamber across.
While I haven't personally agreed with the conclusions the Chamber on a couple of issues, it seemed very clear to me that they had appointed the right person to go in to bat for them. Mr Jefferies could never be accused of failing to represent the interests of the Chamber's members.
I saw on Twitter last night that Rob Jefferies was giving the Mayorship a crack, and the thought that occured to me was "if someone with Rob's representative skills stood for Geraldton's interests as a whole, rather than just the business sector, that could be a very interesting scenario indeed."
Mr Jefferies was kind enough to answer some questions today regarding his tilt at the Mayor's role.
We also asked where he stood on a couple of hot topics within the community, rate increases and deregulated trading hours, and we're pleased to report he didn't skirt around the questions.
Did anything trigger you to have a go at the Mayor's roll?
"I’m at a point where I want to put my skills and my knowledge to the best use I can in the community.
"I’ve got a lot of experience in local government.
"I enjoy what I’m doing (with the Chamber), but that’s just in one segment of our community. That’s really important to me, but I’m also really concerned about some of the things I see in our community and the social development of Geraldton and Greenough.
"I think I can do more to [facilitate] collaborative approaches to take on some of those issues
"As a city, I think we could be doing much more than what we are doing."
Where do you stand on deregulated trading hours? In the past you've represented the views of the Chamber on this matter very strongly.
"It's important in the mayor's roll to look at the whole of community perspective and to represent what I think is best for the whole of community.
"The majority of employment occurs through small business. We need to help small business grow and develop so we can get all those benefits.
"My personal view, not the Chamber's, is de-regulation will come in time. So the important thing is how we manage that process, and develop small businesses.
"I believe in evolution, not revolution.
"When the state government imposes it (de-regulated trading hours), it is not necessarily a good thing. We need to manage the change and grow the capacity of small businesses. "
Regarding rates increases:
Mr Jefferies acknowledged that councils often face cost increases that can be higher than household expense increases. But he made it very clear he wanted to see rate increases no higher than inflation.
"On issues of MASSIVE rate increases and anything significantly higher than inflation rates... then certainly I would not support it, unless it had some overwhelming driver that made it necessary and was supported by the community."
Regarding his vision for Geraldton:
" came out early because I want to give people the opportunity to engage with me and give me their views.
"I’ve got a vision, and I’ve got my ideas about what needs to be done.
"But I don’t claim to be the expert. I’ll put my views out there, but I'm more than happy to change my mind if other people put compelling arguments out there.
"I think the city needs to have a better understand the views of the community around issues.
"That’s one of the things I would bring to the role. I'm not saying anything negative about the existing members, but that's a strong way I’d want to do things.
Mr Jefferies says he's started a Facebook page to help the community provide him feedback:
"I've got some strong responses on tourism and where we could go with that."
Local Government Ordinary Elections are held every two years on the third Saturday in October, and the next election will be held on 17 October 2015. Every second election the Mayor's position is up for grabs, and that's this year.
Make sure you're enrolled to vote, and if you're interested in learning more about becoming a councillor or running for Mayor yourself, the City will be hosting an information session 'Standing for Council' on Monday 24 August 2015 at 5.30pm, at the City of Greater Geraldton Civic Centre Function Room, 63 Cathedral Avenue Geraldton.