Last year we reported that an inner-city Melbourne council looked set to thwart a councillor’s bid to lead the Municipal Association of Victoria, the peak body for local councils in the state. The MAV’s previous president, Bill McArthur, was out of the job after eight years after being dumped from his own rural council of Golden Plains last October, so Boroondara Councillor Coral Ross has been interim president for three months. She had hoped to be the first directly elected woman to fill the role of president in the MAV’s 138-year history, but her Boroondara colleagues had other plans.

Liberal-dominated Boroondara Council, which takes in much of Josh Frydenberg’s affluent seat of Kooyong in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs, has pulled the rug on Coral Ross by withdrawing her commission as their delegate, sparking howls of outrage across the sector, particularly from the Australian Local Government Women’s Association.

The Boroondara councillors made their move in a confidential meeting last December and then didn’t put their names to this strange press release defending the strategy on Monday, which included the old “I have daughters” argument from new councillor Gary Thompson.

A solution to the stand-off appeared at hand when Boroondara’s neighbouring female majority Darebin Council, where the Greens now have the numbers, stepped up and appointed Ross as their MAV delegate in order to give her a chance to run.

This was on the back of legal advice from no less than Julian Burnside QC, who found it was permissible under the MAV rules.

Alas, long-serving MAV CEO Rob Spence has commissioned alternative legal advice from Minter Ellison and is telling the board that he intends to reject Darebin’s nomination of Ross and not let the board make their own decision on the validity of this move at tomorrow’s meeting.

This would be a bold intervention by a long-serving CEO who hasn’t exactly seen eye to eye with his president in years gone by. It is rumoured he would prefer to work with former MAV president and City of Port Phillip Labor councillor Dick Gross, who has announced his intention to run again.

The VEC is running the MAV election, and the electoral roll closes tomorrow. Nominations for president and regional board seats are already open and close next Friday, February 10. Tomorrow’s board meeting could get quite messy, and whatever happens, there’s a chance this one could finish up in the Victorian Supreme Court.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey