The tension in the air was palpable in the council room on Wednesday, with councillors divided over a motion which would see unvaccinated staff and councillors barred from attending meetings in person.
The motion, while simply moving to allow councillors to dial in remotely if they were unvaccinated, turned into a moral discussion about their leadership responsibilities in the community.
Cr Mal Peters who put forward the motion, was not in attendance citing health issues, so it was put forward by Cr Anthony Michael instead.
Following a discussion - with every councillor having their say on the matter - the motion was lost.
Cr Michael went further than espousing his support of the motion, saying that if councillors and the mayor, both current and future, chose not to get vaccinated then they shouldn't be on council at all.
"As community councillors who have been elected into this position, we should set a standard that we need to adhere to the rules," he said.
"I know it's one step ahead of the health regulations... but I think as a council we should step that up."
Currently, NSW Health's public health orders do not mandate that councillors have to be fully vaccinated to carry out their role.
General Manager Paul Henry addressed council following a question from Cr Jackie Watts, saying "there is no legislative mandate, but there is ongoing work on providing guidance on the mandatory vaccination question".
"But certainly pressure is mounting to look at broadening the range of staff that are required to be double vaxxed," Mr Henry added.
At the last ordinary meeting, it was voted that councillors must attend in person or be excused. There was to be no allowance for remote attendance.
Some people can't have it for their own health reasons... we don't need to become a police state.Cr Di Baker.
"There is nothing worse than trying to run a community with everyone on the end of a television camera," Cr Stewart Berryman said, referencing that prior decision.
"I think it's quite ridiculous, frankly, at the beginning of December it will be all thrown in together anyway. I don't believe in changing the resolution on the books for one more meeting. It's not on."
However Cr Neil McCosker asked him, "why?" outlining the many meetings he had during a week successfully completed through Zoom.
Yet fears were had over potentially scaring away fresh councillor interest. Cr Di Baker, with agreement from Cr Watts, said that if the current council group was to adopt the motion, one meeting away from elections, it could have the effect of driving potential candidates away - something to be worried about, not welcomed.
We made a decision in this council to support vaccinating our community...I want that made clear - not to muddy the waters of the debate.Cr Kate Dight
"Some people can't have it for their own health reasons - and I do believe we need to follow the general instructions that are given," Cr Baker said, noting she strongly advocated for vaccination.
"We don't need to become a police state and say, 'this will be our own little area and we are going to make people do this', because I believe we live in a democratic country and people have the right to their opinion.
"I find this pointed at a few people and it is very ineffective when it comes to covid-19."
In August, Inverell Shire Council voted to support efforts in getting the LGA's population vaccinated.
"As a collective, we as leaders of our local government area need to have a view. We made a decision in this council to support vaccinating our community," Cr Kate Dight stated.
"I want that made clear - not to muddy the waters of this debate."
Cr Michael, who is not running for reelection this year, made it clear he thought every councillor should be vaccinated.
I've refrained from speaking because most of the time it gets taken out of context, and I'll keep it that way now.Mayor Paul Harmon
He stated that he'd been a "strong supporter of the mayor in his role as the mayor", before going on to express his "disappointment" in his unvaccinated status.
"If the mayor is remaining unvaccinated, I would recommend he didn't stand for council at the next term," Cr Michael said.
He referenced a radio interview the mayor had given where Cr Harmon said he personally wouldn't be vaccinated for health reasons.
Ever since then, Cr Harmon has declined to go on the record publicly about his personal views on vaccination.
He remains committed in saying that anyone who wants to get vaccinated should do so with the blessing of their health care professional - as per State and Federal Government Health's recommendations.
Cr Michael's comments brought forth the ire of others seated around the table, however couldn't draw mayor Paul Harmon to comment himself.
"I've refrained from speaking because most of the time it gets taken out of context, and I'll keep it that way now," Cr Harmon stated simply.
Cr Kate Dight said she herself is double vaccinated, as was her family and 15-year-old son, and strongly supported everyone in getting double-dosed.
"We absolutely need to be vaxxed," she said, "that is my personal view."
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