THE contest for Warrnambool’s hottest job as mayor is shaping up as a face-off between incumbent Michael Neoh and Peter Hulin who wants a chance to lead a united council team.
Another previous mayor, Cr Jacinta Ermacora, is yet to declare if she will make another tilt at the job which carries a wage of almost $70,000.
With only 13 days before the November 11 in-house vote, both men are on the front foot with their aspirations to lead the city into its next chapter during a state election year.
Cr Neoh points to council achievements under his leadership and his role as vice-chairman of Regional Cities Victoria (RCV) and a board member of Great South Coast group while Cr Hulin points to his five years of working for ratepayers as a councillor and the need for a more unified council.
Two other city councillors, Brian Kelson and Peter Sycopoulis, have indicated their support for Cr Hulin, while Cr Neoh will require support from councillors Rob Askew, Kylie Gaston and Ermacora to get over the line.
“I’m certainly putting my hand up for the position, like I’ve put my name forward every year,” Cr Hulin declared.
“This council under Cr Neoh’s leadership is not working — there’s so much bitterness and division.
“Warrnambool deserves a mayor whose number one priority is its citizens and one who aspires to build a united group of councillors who are independent thinkers and are able to capitalise and create the potential our city possesses and achieve the prosperity our forefathers envisaged.”
However, Cr Neoh says the council has been working well under his leadership to focus on its four-year plan and annual budgets.
“There are a number of big projects on the verge and I’d like to see them through,” Cr Neoh told The Standard yesterday.
“The overwhelming comment I get from people in the community is encouraging me to get on with the big picture — they are pleased that is my philosophy.
“The whole thing about democracy is there isn’t a party line. ‘People vote the way they want to vote.”
He said sometimes side issues took the focus away from the main game.
Cr Neoh, who will soon complete his third mayoral term, said next year’s state government elections presented opportunity for funding streams for proposed Warrmambool projects.
These included harbour improvements, a new library and city centre renewal.
He said he would consider taking on the chairmanship position of RCV early next year to help lobby for more state funds.
Cr Kelson said Cr Hulin would make an excellent mayor. “There’s no doubt he’s a controversial guy, but he only has the best interests of the community at the forefront all the time,” Cr Kelson said.
“He’s into his sixth term and I would have no problem in supporting Cr Hulin in his quest for mayor.”
Cr Sycopoulis, who indicated he would have a crack at the mayoral job in the future, said Cr Hulin was a passionate councillor with an in-depth knowledge of local issues.
“It’s time for a new leadership strategy,” Cr Sycopoulis said.
“We’ve had six years of the role being shared by councillors Ermacora and Neoh and for all that time there have been divisions.
“I think Cr Hulin needs to be given the opportunity to prove himself — I think others will see the benefits.”
Cr Gaston also indicated she would consider running for mayor after gaining more experience as a councillor.
“Council has been getting an enormous amount done and unfortunately this is sometimes overshadowed by antics,” she said.
“I feel Cr Neoh’s mayoralship has been inclusive — he’s made every effort to involve us all.”