Adelaide Plains Council (APC) has moved to abolish its three wards, voting in favour of area councillors led by a community-elected mayor, following its ordinary council meeting on Monday.
The “in principle” decision was strongly supported in the chamber, with all but two councillors voting in favour of the change, despite the majority of public consultation submissions received wanting to retain a ward structure of some sort.
The decision paves the way for APC to do away with its current electoral wards of Two Wells, Lewiston, and Mallala/Dublin and take on a more holistic approach to representation within the council district.
The number of councillors in the chamber is proposed to remain at nine, supported by a resident-elected mayor, as has been the norm for some time.
However, Adelaide Plains Residents and Ratepayers Association (APRRA) president, Greville Knight, believes the move could spell the end for some councillors, and create inequity of representation for specific areas of the district
Following workshops with elected members last year, a draft ‘Representation Options Paper’ was presented to APC and endorsed for public consultation in November 2020.
APC received five submissions at the close of public consultation in January this year, with a report last month outlining a number of options for councillors to consider moving forward.
The options proposed consisted of: Two wards, nine councillors; Four wards, eight councillors; Two wards, eight councillors; Two wards, seven councillors; and No wards.
APRRA lodged a submission in favour of keeping wards and creating a new “Samphire Coastal” ward.
Mr Knight said he was “shocked” at council’s decision to move forward with the abolishment of wards.
“I was terribly disappointed,” he said.
“The wards provide individuality, and (with this decision), that goes, because every ward has its own special requirements.
“Mallala is broad acre farming, the coastal ward has infrastructure and tourism needs, and Two Wells, like Lewiston, is becoming more urbanised. Now that’s all been thrown into the same bucket.”
Mr Knight said he felt some community sectors would miss out under a no-ward structure and the composition of councillors could be weighted to a particular area of the district.
“I think specific portions of the community are going to find themselves more and more on the outer,” he said.
“I think at the next election, God forbid, the makeup of the council could be made up of all candidates south of the (Light) river.”
Mr Knight said a similar motion to abolish wards was proposed by council some years ago and was met with a public outcry against the proposal.
“It will be up to APRRA to put the red flag to the bull, and say, this is not on,” he said.
“But there is an upside, the upside is now anybody across the entire APC district, ratepayers and business owners, anybody who resides in the council area, can in fact put their hand up to apply for a position as an area councillor.
“Now instead of having a one in three chance, there’s an opportunity for anyone to fill the quota in any one of the nine seats.
“I believe after Monday night some councillors may have potentially written their way into history and out of their safe council seats.
“Before now they only had to focus on their own ward area, now they’re going to have to focus and be seen to be representative across the entire council area.”
At present, on average, APC has one councillor representing 687 residents.
In supporting a ward structure as the best course of action for the council area, Mr Knight said one of the biggest downfalls of having no wards was the potential cost to ratepayers if a by-election had to be called.
“If there are no wards, if a councillor resigns, or is sick, or for any other reason decides to stand down before the end of their term, it means the entire council area has to have a by-election and that would cost thousands of dollars,” he said.
“That would be a $20,000 cost if we were to lose a councillor for any reason during their term which the ratepayers would have to bear.”
The no-ward proposal, as outlined in council’s report, provides room for growth with respect to the councillor/resident ratio.
Further public consultation about the proposal will be conducted in due course and any submissions presented back to APC for consideration.