OPINION: Mayor faces tough challenge from chamber boss

IN recent weeks, talk around town about council elections in November this year has reached fever pitch.

But it has now gone to a new level with the announcement today Chamber of Commerce president Lynette Martin OAM will make a challenge.

If successful, Ms Martin will become Mount Gambier’s second female mayor.

That in itself is an amazing statistic because it has been 54 years since the city last elected its first female mayor (and first in South Australia), Lenore Bishop in 1964.

Ms Martin is not only popular, but has a high profile so people know what she has done, what she stands for and know, that given her record in the chamber, she is prepared to deliver for Mount Gambier.

While her announcement to nominate is possibly “the worst-kept secret”, there is a good reason for this.

Ms Martin has been very active in the past few months speaking to civic and community leaders about her desire to seek the mayoralty.

It is understood she has held talks with Naracoorte mayor Erica Vickery and other local government officers and MPs, seeking views and advice on what is required to be mayor.

Some might suggest the fact she has not been in council previously will hinder her, but that is pure folly.

There is not one mayor who has not found it a learning-on-the job task during their first few months as council leader.

Among Ms Martin’s great traits is to listen, make judgements based on evidence and show leadership when it is required.

In Mr Lee’s first term he put a lot of attention into keeping down rate increases and also put a halt to the escalating annual running costs of council facilities, particularly the library, which had ballooned out to a serious $2m per year.

He and council also implemented a sound financial five-year business plan, which provides future councils with a template from which to base budgets and necessary rate rises.

He has also been proactive in attending many community events and made a good impression in representing Mount Gambier in a positive manner when the state governor visited in 2016.

Ms Martin has a strong support base through her business and wider community interests, built mainly on her ability to recognise critical issues early, speak out publicly about them and then, when necessary, act on them.

In regard to Mr Lee, there have been times when he has appeared to have either failed to recognise major issues as they happen or has rarely spoken publicly about them or has not made his voice loud enough.

He also has faced his share of controversies in the past three years, including the well publicised Chinese business deal.

His failure to speak out during the hospital crisis last year in support of nurses, doctors and patients in their fight against the State Government disappointed many in the community.

Likewise, timber mill chiefs were disappointed he did not make a public stand supporting them against the export of logs and more recently there was the failure to provide a civic leadership voice when the crisis developed over Rex Airlines reduction of services.

Mr Lee is good at campaigning and in the lead up to last election he walked the streets door-knocking so it will be interesting to see what the reaction is this time.

Being the incumbent gives him advantage, but this is looming as a tough election challenge.

Ms Martin brings plenty to the table and her popularity will make for a very close election.

Following the next election, council numbers will drop from 10 to eight and already there is talk of several new candidates nominating.

Do not be surprised if there are several prominent business people who throw their hat into the ring, among them may be Ben Hood and former councillor Allen Smith.

There has been disquiet among the business and wider community over the need for more business leaders in council to offset the current mix that exists, with few true business-types in the chamber.

The next few months could be an interesting time.