By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Jim Memeti has been returned as Greater Dandenong mayor – but his fourth ascension was anything but certain.
In a cliff-hanger vote in the council chambers on 14 November, councillors Youhorn Chea, Maria Sampey and Loi Truong also put up their hands for election.
Councillors were seen scurrying between rooms in last-minute lobbying.
Cr Memeti later conceded he was so nervous about the result that he hadn’t invited his family.
Bizarrely, two candidates drew balls from a sparkling pink ‘magic hat’ to help decide the matter – to the disbelief of a murmuring public gallery.
Cr Memeti, in his fourth term as mayor in 14 years, told the meeting he’d bring experience and hard work on behalf of all in the “most vibrant” municipality in Australia.
“Over the next 12 months, I’m particularly excited by the opening of the ($50-million-plus) Springvale library and community precinct,” he said.
In a punchy speech, he pledged “tolerance and acceptance”.
He would “continue to make this city the welcoming place that it is” – and invited all to upcoming Christmas carols and New Year’s Eve in Harmony Square, and Australia Day festivities.
Cr Memeti was coy to reveal his plans for pressing ahead with the ‘Team 11’ A-League team bid.
“I have to first consult with my colleagues,” he told Star News.
Grass-roots community sports clubs were, however, a priority.
There was also a need to continue to work with business – which contributed 51 per cent of council rates, employed 78,000 and generated $28 billion, he said.
“I understand that we must work in partnership with them to be viable businesses. They are as part of Dandenong as we are to them.”
He awaited the outcome of the 12-month free-parking trial in Lonsdale Street Dandenong.
In the chamber, Cr Memeti led a round of applause for former councillor Roz Blades, who recently resigned after 32 years as a Springvale and Greater Dandenong councillor.
Though absent, ‘Roz’ loomed large in several heart-felt tributes that night, from councillors, faith-leaders and Welcome to Country orator Aunty Pat.
Twelve months ago as mayor, she had set out a trail-blazing agenda including homelessness and public transport.
“She’s already been missed in this chamber,” Cr Zaynoun Melham said, noting two councillors had resigned in the past year.
He said Cr Memeti as a “good solid performer” as mayor would settle the recent council “instability”.
During a three-round mayoral vote, councillors bared their allegiances by a show of hands.
On first count, Cr Chea was eliminated.
In the next round, Crs Sampey and Truong were tied for second. The latter was eliminated when he drew the ‘defeated’ ball from the pink hat.
Who knows what might have happened if this random intervention reversed?
Only on the third round did a councillor gain a narrow 6-5 majority – Cr Memeti with the backing of Crs Chea, Angela Long, Zaynoun Melham, Tim Dark and Sophie Tan.
Cr Maria Sampey was supported by Crs Truong, Peter Brown, Sean O’Reilly and Matthew Kirwan.