MILDURA’S new mayor wants to “lower the eyes” and put a focus back on local issues of immediate concern to the community.
Liam Wood was elevated to the top job this week, edging out previous mayor Jason Modica in a vote where councillors were split 5-4.
There was also change to the Deputy Mayor’s position, with Cyndi Power replacing Helen Healy after another 5-4 vote.
Cr Wood thanked Cr Modica for his efforts during the past year and said he was honoured to be mayor of a region he grew up in.
“I feel great pride in being able to represent a town that has given me so much,” he said.
“I’m not a career politician, nor will I be a lifelong councillor.
“The aim has always been to give as much time and energy into the position as I can for my four years.”
Cr Wood also used his acceptance speech to outline where his focus would be as mayor.
“Of course, councillors should be across global and national issues, but we are called a Local Government for a reason,” he said.
“I plan to lower the eyes and work collaboratively with community members on the immediate needs of our region.”
Cr Modica congratulated Cr Wood and expressed hope the new council would get behind the new mayor.
He also thanked fellow councillors, council staff and the community for their efforts during COVID-19.
“Really I would like to get a message out to the community on how resilient they have been, on how responsive they have been, on the back of so many rule changes and some curious leadership from both state and federal governments that has left local governments doing a hell of a lot of the work,” he said at the meeting.
Cr Modica told the Mildura Weekly after the vote he would remain on the council.
He said the vote result was “not completely” a surprise and there was a desire for a seamless transition, pledging to have “a quieter couple of weeks”.
Cr Modica defended wading into issues at a state and federal level, saying local governments were being asked to do more work on the ground despite collecting a smaller share of taxation than the two higher tiers of government.
He said the pandemic had amplified this concern.
“We need the states and federal government to get along, not throw bombs at each other,” he said.
Cr Modica also said Mildura, going as far back as the 1880s, had always been concerned with its role in global issues.
“Different leaders have different versions of what they address,” he said when asked about Cr Wood’s acceptance speech.
Deputy Mayor Cyndi Power, who has kept a relatively low profile in her first 12 months as a councillor, said she too was “not a career politician”.
“I am an activist, I lead from the heart, I always give 100 per cent,” Cr Power said.
“It’s my intention to work extremely hard for all of you to achieve many wins for our community and for our ratepayers.
“We’ve been through a lot the past 18 months — the work starts now, let’s move forward and welcome change.”
Cr Modica won last year’s mayoral vote, his second attempt to win the role, on a 7-2 split.
Votes for him this week came from Cr Healy, Mark Eckel and Jodi Reynolds.
Cr Wood’s nomination for mayor was supported by Cr Power, Stefano de Pieri, Glenn Milne and Ian Arney.
By MICHAEL DiFABRIZIO
The mood after Tuesday’s Mildura mayoral vote was cordial.
Outgoing mayor Jason Modica was the first to put his hands together to clap Liam Wood’s ascension to the top job, following a vote conducted through Zoom.
Helen Healy did the same after losing the deputy mayor vote to Cyndi Power.
If there was ill will over the dual transitions, it was at least concealed for the cameras.
But for those caught by surprise that a mayor willing to go on would be replaced after 12 months, there was a not-particularly-subtle hint offered as to why there was an appetite for change.
When the new mayor said “we are called a local government for a reason” and pledged to focus “on the immediate needs of our region”, he drew a distinction between himself and his predecessor.
The implication was that Cr Modica had been spending too much time on issues further up the chain.
It’s not an assessment that would be out of step with public positioning.
On Twitter, of Cr Modica’s 25 most recent tweets and retweets earlier this week, 18 concerned federal politics or federal policy around climate change and electric vehicles.
A further two referred to the state Liberal Party.
Only two of his tweets mentioned “Mildura” or any other town in the local government area.
On his public Facebook page, he had shared articles from Green Car Reports, the World Economic Forum, Inside EVs, Crikey, Guardian Australia and Renew Economy more recently than his last share of an article written by one of the many fine journalists working locally in Sunraysia.
Cr Modica ran for the seat of Mallee as an independent at the 2019 federal election and was yet to rule out another tilt at the next poll.
“I’ve sort of kept an eye on it but haven’t really considered it,” Cr Modica said two weeks ago.
He added that council’s COVID response and support for local business had been his priority.
“I’ve very much been focused on that but I will make a decision in the next little while,” he said.
Stepping out of the mayoral role may give him the time to switch focus in that direction.
But perhaps awkwardly, if federal politics is indeed the goal, Cr Modica may soon have to explain how someone who lost two mayoral votes among the Deakin Avenue chambers is the right tactician to be sending to Parliament House.
– MICHAEL DiFABRIZIO