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Mayors express mixed views on direct election

Published:Thursday | January 12, 2023 | 1:16 AMAlbert Ferguson/Gleaner Writer


FALMOUTH MAYOR Collen Gager believes that the direct election of mayors could place someone with a better management plan at a disadvantage, especially if supporters of political parties are in the majority in towns and cities across the municipalities.

Under the existing local government system, only the mayor of the Portmore Municipal Corporation in St Catherine is directly elected. All other mayors are selected by their fellow municipal councillors to preside as chairmen of the municipal corporations and mayor of his/her parish capital.

“If you are going to be running for mayor in Falmouth that could pose a challenge, depending on the political side that you support,” said Gager, who is also chairman of the Jamaica Labour Party-controlled Trelawny Municipal Corporation.

“Places that have a stronger support for one party over the other [are] actually going to vote the party’s way.” He referenced the town of Falmouth, which is known to give strong support to the People’s National Party.

Gager, who is the councillor for the Warsop Division, argued that if the idea of direct election of mayors is to be embraced, and implemented, consideration would have to be given to extending the voting power outside of the geography of town and city boundaries to widen the chances of candidates, especially those who are not known to be connected to a political party.

“For it to be a fair process, maybe you would have to look at widening the area; and I don’t know how well it would go, because you will be elected mayor of Falmouth, for example, and not for the parish of Trelawny,” noted Gager.

Political, Cultural Practice

Donovan Mitchell, the mayor of Mandeville, says while he has given some thought to the idea of directly electing mayors, it would be redundant if the persons elected are merely ceremonial and not able to help the people.

In a Gleaner interview on Tuesday, Mitchell argued that if that were to become the reality, mayors would need to have veto powers and the authority to employ other things that will make them effective in doing the people’s business.

“There are a number of things that would have to be done in order to have a [system of] direct election of mayors, because it doesn’t make sense you have a direct election of mayor and you don’t have any authority with the position,” Mitchell, the chairman of the Manchester Municipal Corporation (MMC) declared.

“There has to be some other things that go with it if you are directly elected mayor. There has to be some direct responsibilities and decisions that you can take,” he argued.

Mitchell, who was elevated to the helm of the MMC in 2016, noted that as mayor he is called upon for assistance by people from all over the parish, but based on how the system is structured there is not much that he can do.

“I really can’t overstep my bounds to go into another division to help citizens, except [ if] they have a case where it has to be done. They have to go through their own representative (councillor) to say, this is what is happening and this is to be done,” he explained.

According to the Mandeville mayor, a directly elected mayor would also need to have a budget to be able to treat the issues at hand.

“There has to be some budget. People have to have a direct link with their mayor. It can’t be just ceremonial,” Mitchell added.

Derrick Sangster, the mayor of Black River in St Elizabeth, says he has never considered the concept of direct election of mayor, nor could he recall it being a Jamaica Labour Party position.

He believes, however, that the existing political and cultural practice of electing mayors and chairmen should be respected and allowed to remain in place.

“In these matters, one always has to look at the culture and nature of politics in Jamaica. I would see some challenges if this is done on a national basis,” Sangster claimed.