Many gallery members leaving the chamber remained bemused as to whether Cr McLean would take any notice of the council position or whether she would stay on as mayor, councillor or both. Her position was still unknown when The Weekly Advertiser went to press.
There had been media reports earlier in the day that Cr McLean might continue as a councillor despite living in Queensland and continue to represent the people of Ararat.
Cr McLean’s lack of any sort of direction for public consumption last night added to several days of speculation about her whereabouts and her position as mayor moving forward.
What the public did hear was considerable criticism from Crs Bill Braithwaite, Peter Beales and Jo Armstrong of her ability to remain a council representative and mayor.
If Cr McLean confirmed in confidential committee to remain a councillor but stand down as mayor, the council will avoid a countback or by-election and need only a special meeting to elect a new mayor.
But Cr McLean, unless she consistently travels from and to her new home as part of a ‘fly-in, fly-out’ schedule, could only be a long-distance representative. She will need to rely heavily on information technology such as teleconferencing.
Her position as an individual councillor is secure for more than two years unless she commits any serious misconduct charges or fails ratepayer or residency guidelines required for the role. She has residential property in the Ararat municipality.
Cr McLean said at last night’s meeting that she had pursued an opportunity to work interstate after enduring ‘disappointing’ council circumstances.
“I told new chief executive officer Allan Bawden on his arrival that I’d been pretty wounded by the commission of inquiry; and been pretty wounded by my attempts to do the right thing, in around quite a lot of mistakes I might say. So I had been looking at other job opportunities.
“… I’m on the wrong side of 60 and I’m closer to some other milestones… so it’s been since last year an absolute joy to be invited as a senior consultant to be involved in medical work.
“To that end I’ve taken that on with gusto – and with the negativity, victimisation and bullying that’s occurred, unfortunately from people who should know better outside Ararat – this has given me a lot of joy.
“I’ve been supported by many members of the council and when an opportunity presented itself I grabbed it. I was uncertain about my health and whether I would be able to sustain a lot of work interstate… and it’s like going for a job interview, you don’t tell all your friends and you don’t tell your enemies about your job interview until you have the job.
“So I have been absent, with apologies. I have been on the iPad most nights, I have had various regular conferences and regular talks with various people in the community and people on this council. But it’s only fairly recently that my work has really started to solidify in the medical field.”
Ararat has been awash with speculation since Friday about the whereabouts of Cr McLean following reports that Ararat’s mayoral vehicle was under lock and key in Melbourne, a removal truck had been at her residence, that she had taken on an interstate job and that people had been unable to contact her.
Some callers to The Weekly Advertiser had been concerned about her safety.
Ararat council officials had also been unsure of her whereabouts but had said consistently they had expected Cr McLean to attend last night’s council meeting.
The Ararat council was the subject of controversy and internal division since making an unsuccessful attempt to abandon a farm land rate differential system last year. The issue eventually led to a Commission of Inquiry and the State Government directing the council to revert back to a 2016 rating plan.
One of the recommendations through the inquiry was that the council establishes a Rating Strategy Advisory Group.
The advisory group will present its findings to a citizen jury this weekend.