Stonnington Council elected its youngest-ever mayor for the year 2016-2017 on Wednesday night. East Ward’s Jami Klisaris, at only 24 years of age, was appointed to the community’s highest form of office.

I want to prove that young people and especially women, can be as – and sometimes more – effective in helping our society move forward.

Did it come as a surprise? Not for the daughter of Paul Klisaris, former mayor of Monash and Labor candidate for Aston 2016. “Watching my father at work had me realise from the age of 16 that I wanted to get involved with the community in some way after I had left school,” she tells Neos Kosmos.

“When the 2012 elections came up in my second year out of high-school, I just thought it was the perfect time and opportunity to go for it.”

Having served four years on the council, she is more than pleased to have been given the opportunity to serve Stonnington from this position.

“I’m very honoured,” she says. “I have been on the council since I was 20 years old and I have proved my capabilities and commitment to serving my community as their mayor with vision and energy.”

During those four years, Miss Klisaris managed to create a good relationship with the majority of the municipality’s councilors, including Steve Stefanopoulos, Glen Atwell, Melina Sehr, John Chandler, Marcia Griffin, Sally Davis, and Matthew Koce, who all congratulated the new mayor. The Stonnington members dubbed Klisaris a “role model” for young women and generations stating that she is a “fantastic choice”.

In the beginning there was some apprehension, she admits, especially from the newest members on the council, who saw her age as a barrier despite her four years of solid experience. Indeed Cr Judy Hindle of South Ward was quick in rising to express her demur on Klisaris’ election, stating: “I want to make it clear that I was not in favour of Cr Klisaris as mayor. Just because there was no other nomination doesn’t mean that [the voting] was unanimous.”

Mayor Klisaris, who will defer her post-graduate law studies at Monash University for a year, is not at all deterred and sees all obstacles as challenges she needs to overcome during her tenure at the office, constantly learning and improving herself.

“I’ll be doing it full time and always be available,” she emphasises. “I just look at things differently, due to my life experiences, and I’m always learning. I’m not closed-minded at all and I don’t see my role as a one-person job. My desire is to work closely with all the councilors and that’s definitely a testament to my age.”

The 24-year-old promises to bring a fresh perspective and believes her appointment can only be seen as a positive and inspiring decision, which promotes gender equality and acknowledges the potential of younger members of the community.

“I think local government in general is more or less male dominated by established professionals of older age,” she says adding that “there is need for diversity and change”.

“Being the youngest ever elected in Stonnington will have a big impact in itself, which will come with a great deal of responsibility, too.”

At the top of her priorities during her mayoral term is raising awareness for domestic violence, a disease in our society, as she describes it. Meanwhile, she plans on working with the state government on a variety of issues, one being the much- needed upgrade to South Yarra station and an interchange on the Melbourne Metro Rail.

“I’ve also got major infrastructure projects coming up and it’s important to lead the new council into those projects, ensuring they have a good understanding of what we’ve done over those past four years and to keep them on track with all of those redevelopments.
“It’s pivotal to deliver them to the community and to keep pushing forward. Creating more green open space and building a local netball stadium are some more examples, two of the many things the coming year holds. I need to take good leadership as they will shape our community for the future.”

The young Stonnington mayor will be following her father’s advice for a team-effort approach, utilising her “amazing staff” and stepping back to allow collaborative ideas to flourish.

“My main goal is to set up the council to be in a good position for the coming years. When I step away next November to return to my studies, it’s important for whoever steps in to be able to take over smoothly and keep all of the good work going,” she says.

“I want to have a fun four years and achieve a lot of things with this new council serving my community. That’s as far into the future as I am right now.”