Just 12 months after the Liberal Party rode a wave of support to win an unprecedented two seats on traditionally Labor-dominated Shellharbour City Council, the team has cracked down the middle.
Councillor Kellie Marsh, the city’s first Liberal mayor, was dumped from the top job at Tuesday night’s meeting after a surprise challenge from her party colleague and new deputy mayor Paul Rankin.
The division meant Labor's former deputy mayor, Marianne Saliba, was elected mayor with four out of seven votes, finding support from her two Labor colleagues, John Murray and David Boyle, and independent Peter Moran.
"I think it demonstrates quite clearly that in Shellharbour City, while a number of us belong to political parties, it's not about the political parties we belong to but about the people we represent," Cr Saliba said.
Independent Helen Stewart supported Cr Rankin for mayor, after co-nominating him for the post, which meant Cr Marsh was left without any support in the chamber after only one year in the job.
All three Labor councillors and Cr Stewart then backed Cr Rankin for deputy.
Cr Marsh could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Cr Rankin admitted he only told her he planned to stand minutes before Tuesday's meeting.
However, he denied it was an ambush and said he only made a decision late that afternoon after speaking to Cr Stewart.
"Cr Stewart wasn't going to support Cr Marsh, which meant that there was no numbers there for Cr Marsh to be able to run for mayor or deputy mayor," he said.
"So to keep a Liberal in that position I reluctantly stuck my hand up to see how I went."
He said Cr Marsh had done her best in the job, but had struggled at times due to a lack of experience.
Both Liberal councillors were first-time candidates when the L-plate council was elected last year. Cr Rankin believed they would "absolutely" still work well together.
Unlike in Wollongong, where residents elect the mayor, Shellharbour's councillors vote on the position each year.
Cr Stewart yesterday said she had nominated Cr Rankin because she thought he was the best person for the job.
"I just think that Kellie concentrated far too much on our younger residents and our older residents and didn't devote equal time to the other residents," she said.
"I found on a personal level that Kellie wasn't very inclusive.
"Media releases would be sent to us, you know, the mayor's doing this, the mayor's doing that. I had no idea what was going on."
Cr Moran said Cr Marsh had done well and he had supported Cr Saliba so the mayor was "clearly elected with the support of the majority of council".
Cr Saliba said her main focus would be on the city's growth.