It is one thing to bemoan the influence of party politics in local government. The expectations about independents are another.This was brought into sharp focus on Wednesday night when independent Wollongong councillor Greg Petty abstained from a vote on the deputy mayor's position, forcing the result to be drawn from a hat.There is something to commend Cr Petty's position. He made no secret of not wanting to be beholden to political parties. And the city's four Labor councillors and four Liberal councillors each threw up their own respective candidates in David Brown and John Dorahy, determined serendipitously or by design.That said, Cr Petty is going to find himself in an awkward spot if he excludes himself from voting on anything he thinks could be construed as supporting a political party's position. Certainly the run of comments on our website shows that many of his constituents expect him to be an active player.The role of an independent is not to call "Switzerland" on everything, and with a council delicately balanced between the Liberal and Labor camps and two Greens and three independents, including himself and the mayor, his vote will prove crucial. He will be required to show a political maturity and willingness to weigh up arguments, which may mean at times voting for the lesser of two evils.Cr Petty can refer to Canberra to see that after much agony Australia's most celebrated independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, had to take a side.Cr Dorahy had more of a claim on the deputy's job than Cr Brown, although the latter will provide the council with some much-needed ballast. But this initial fuss is more unfortunate than anything remotely pushing scandalous.As for those residents left outraged by Cr Petty's failure to commit, they may at least find some solace in this: unwittingly, the independent has made himself one of the more scrutinised councillors on the most scrutinised council in Australia.And that's more than petty politics.
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