Councillor Jess Diaz has accused the Labor Party of “gross negligence” in relation to the death of long-serving councillor Leo Kelly.
The Liberal councillor said Labor was aware of Cr Kelly’s illness and should have allowed for a countback, rather than the $300,000 by-election, in the event of his death.
A countback uses the results of the previous election, meaning the fourth most popular candidate would replace any vacancy./
Mayor Stephen Bali called the controversial claims “completely false” and a “shameless cop-out” from the Liberal Party.
Cr Diaz’s comments were in defence of his party’s shock decision not to field a candidate in the ward two by-election.
“The Liberal Party will not be a party to this gross negligence of the Labor Party,” he said. “The inconvenience to the residents and the fines for those who missed the compulsory voting could have been avoided if Labor put the interest of people first.”
Cr Diaz said the late Cr Kelly’s illness was known to the Labor Party and accused members of deliberately protecting the Labor stronghold by not allowing for a countback. The Local Government Act allows for such a measure if a casual vacancy occurs within 18 months.
Cr Bali hit back at what he called “misleading” claims, saying Cr Kelly’s cancer prognosis was good at the time of the election.
“He wouldn’t even have considered putting ratepayers at this expense; he was hopeful of a recovery,” Cr Bali said.
The mayor defended the by-election, and said the only reason the Liberal Party wanted a countback is because it would have seen Liberal candidate Joe Russo elected.
“Yes it costs money, but people die for democracy,” Cr Bali said. “It’s really important that democracy is always adhered to.
“We’re establishing a principle. Whatever we come up with is going to set the precedent for the future.”
Cr Bali said the only fair systems are a by-election, or another candidate selected by the party or group which vacated the seat.