Battle for Redlands to be decided

Mayoral candidates, Melva Hobson and Karen Williams, will learn their fate on Saturday when voters decide the makeup of Redland City Council for its next four-year term.
Mayoral candidates, Melva Hobson and Karen Williams, will learn their fate on Saturday when voters decide the makeup of Redland City Council for its next four-year term.

AFTER an at-times bitter 18-month election campaign, the battle for Redland City Council mayor comes to an end on Saturday, when the city’s 93,402 ratepayers go to the polls.

The city’s two mayoral candidates, incumbent Melva Hobson (left) and councillor Karen Williams have campaigned on issues including rates, housing development and containing council debt.

Along with choosing a mayor, Redland voters will have to decide who will best represent the city’s 10 divisions.

Melva Hobson is the incumbent mayor and was elected in 2008.

Her opponent is Karen Williams, who retired as Division 9 councillor to take up the challenge.

Both are community-minded women.

Cr Hobson conducts the choir at Cleveland Uniting Church and Cr Williams plays the organ at St Anthony’s Catholic Church, Alexandra Hills.

Cr Williams has been on the campaign trail for 18 months raising her profile and outlining her policies of abolishing tip fees, capping rates to CPI and overhauling the council’s 10-year financial strategy.

During Cr Hobson’s term, the council had to deal with state government water reforms, disbanding of water retailer Allconnex, austerity measures to keep the council’s debt in check, and a state government-regulated housing development at Kinross Road.

For the record, the city council’s general manager – corporate services, Martin Drydale, has said that total council debt in 2008 was $128 million and at the end of this financial year, will be between $63 million and $65 million.

The decrease in debt over the past term of council was partly due to a payment of $83 million from the state government for the city’s water assets in 2008-2009.

Development has become a major issue in this election, noted for being one of the “nastiest” in recent history.

Cr Hobson was elected for her pledge to constrain extensive development of the Redlands, beating a former attorney-general Paul Clauson for the position.

Cr Williams was on the previous council, headed by Don Seccombe, which oversaw a period of housing development across the city.

Since then, the Bligh government clamped down on development in southern Redland Bay and Thornlands.

It is still unknown how the newly instated Campbell Newman-led state government will deal with requests for the extension of those footprints.

However, according to Cr Hobson, community responses from last year’s Redland Community Plan 2030, found most did not want unbridled development and wanted council to protect the Redland lifestyle.

Cr Williams said, if elected, she would “listen to the people” and do what they wanted when it came to developing rural areas outside the urban footprint.

Tip fees of $4 and $8 are also an issue.

Cr Williams is against tip fees, which she claims forces people to dump in the bush.

Cr Hobson said abolishing tip fees was a “smoke screen” to hide the battle for development and tip users should pay to dump.

She has also talked about introducing an annual kerbside pickup.

Kerbside recycling was one of Cr Hobson’s promises in the 2008 election but the council failed to approve the project after officers said it was too expensive and difficult to implement.

The campaign has been plagued by accusations from community groups including the Concerned Redland Residents Association, which wants to get rid of the incumbent councillors, and the Community Alliance for Responsible Planning, which says Cr Hobson has protected the environment.

Rates are also an issue and the Concerned Redland Residents Association, has held meetings decrying the council for hiking up rates and has paid for advertising and a billboard calling for a clean sweep of council.

During the campaign, the association has been accused of being a front for developers but the group denies that, saying it is a group of local business people.

One of the tenets of the group has been that rates, fees and levies revenue has risen 48 per cent over the term.

Cr Hobson said rates rises were comparable to CPI rises and went up 6.09 per cent last year.

Across the city there have been modest rises with rates hikes in other areas such as Raby Bay, Aquatic Paradise and the canal estates.

They are also outraged the association adapted electioneering advertising from Cr Hobson’s 2008 campaign putting black crosses over sitting councillors’ faces.

Returning officer for the city Harold Guy visited the Victoria Point pre-polling booth three times in the week after the centre opened to control volunteers handing out election leaflets.

Incumbent Division 5 Cr Barbara Townsend said one of her signs had been run over.

Division 4 candidate Louise Denisenko complained that it had never been reported that her opponent, Lance Hewlett, was the brother-in-law of Redlands MP Peter Dowling and Division 6 candidate Julie Talty was former councillor John Burns’ daughter.

Another Division 4 candidate, Leeann Lillicrap, is upset she had been included in a list of Cr Williams’ “team”.

Polling booths open at 8am tomorrow and shut at 6pm.