JESS Jennings’ bid to return to Bathurst Regional Council has thrown a new twist in the tale as we count down to local government elections in September.
Dr Jennings was one of the more prominent voices within the council chamber before his resignation last May to contest the federal election as the Labor candidate for Calare.
That was always going to be a tall order in a strongly National electorate and Dr Jennings was soundly defeated by Andrew Gee.
Ever the optimist, though, Dr Jennings took some solace from booth victories in traditional Labor heartland areas such as Lithgow and South Bathurst and an overall swing away from the Nationals of around three per cent, and indicated at the time he would like to contest another poll.
And that remains an option, though this time round he swears he will not step down from council before the term is completed.
Instead, if Dr Jennings becomes the Member for Calare (and no-one expects that to happen) he has vowed to serve a dual role until council elections are held again in 2020.
What Dr Jennings’ intended return to council will do, though, is throw new impetus behind a push for a referendum on a directly elected mayor.
While previously it was expected that any referendum on the issue would be held in conjunction with a council election to keep down the cost, Dr Jennings has made it clear he believes it is too important to wait.
If elected, he intends to push for a referendum to be held in time for Bathurst residents to directly vote for their mayor in 2020 – if the referendum goes the way he hopes, that is. But, as Councillor Bobby Bourke has consistently found, getting such a referendum off the ground might be no easy task.
Councillors have generally shown a distrust of their electors to make the right choice in a referendum so the majority have always blocked it going ahead.
But with around half the current council unlikely to contest the September poll, the dynamics within the chamber could be set to change dramatically.
And the question of a referendum on a directly elected mayor will now be a key election issue, putting candidates who oppose the plan in a difficult spot since it seems to have strong support among voters.
He’s not even back on council, and already Dr Jennings is making councillors’ life more tricky.