THE Sunshine Coast faces prolonged uncertainty whoever is elected as mayor and councillors.
The spectre of Noosa's possible de-amalgamation within the next 18 months will hamper moves to reform the bureaucracy, raise serious questions about forward capital expenditure planning and cast doubt over settings within the new regional plan.
An eight-candidate field is likely to produce a minority mayor with a mandate that will come into further question if up to 25% of the electorate decamps mid-term.
Those circumstances may lead the State Government to order fresh elections for both local government areas if de-amalgamation takes place.
There are also at least two investigations under way into alleged preference deals done during the campaign and a defamation suit threatened by Mal Brough, the potential future LNP Member for the Federal seat of Fisher, against mayoral aspirant Michael Bloyce.
Local Government Association of Queensland CEO Greg Hallam observed this week that without reflecting on any candidate, many of the elements of third party deals at the heart of the 2004 Gold Coast local government election campaign, which led to a full CMC inquiry, appeared prevalent in the 2012 Sunshine Coast campaign.
Mayoral front runner Brett Winkler says a member of fellow candidate and front runner Mark Jamieson's team paid $5000 to compensate him for changing how to vote cards to include Mr Jamieson as his fourth preference.
Mr Winkler says he came to his own decision to place Mr Jamieson fourth on his card and his then campaign manager Carl Olive, who he sacked after this matter was raised, made the funding arrangements with the Jamieson camp.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this as long as the money wasn't offered as an inducement and the deal was properly registered.
What does raise concern is that Mr Jamieson says no such relationship exists between the two camps.
Mayor Bob Abbot believes the winner will come from Mr Jamieson, Mr Winkler or Maroochydore pharmacist Warren Blee, although he doesn't discount the chances of Debbie Blumel or Michael Bloyce.
Warren Blee, Mark Jamieson and Kim Edwards come to the table with genuine experience as business owners.
Ms Edwards is an award-winning business owner, Warren Blee has more than 30 years' experience running his own pharmacy and representing his industry and Mr Jamieson worked his way up the ranks from the sales team of a country newspaper to become its parent company's national chief executive before taking up his own business pursuits with a partnership in a hotel and property interests.
Debbie Blumel, the only mayoral contender with elected council experience, was the first chair of the revamped Regional Development Authority and has served as Queensland's representative on the National Seachange taskforce.
Michael Bloyce has an extensive history as a council bureaucrat.
Both Cr Blumel and Mr Winkler have spoken directly of the need to carry on the Bob Abbot sustainability legacy, although all candidates have acknowledged the community's concern for the environment's continued protection.
Along with outsider Matthew Ryan-Sykes, Cr Blumel shows the greatest awareness of issues relating to that protection.
Warren Blee also demonstrates a deep understanding, while Mr Jamieson has promised he will, in consultation with councillors, set an environmental agenda by which ratepayers can measure performance.
Ms Edwards and Mr Winkler have also spoken of the need to protect the region's natural assets, although both support an increase in height limits to between 15 and 20 storeys in selected areas.
Ms Edwards also said she would support a casino for the Sunshine Coast.
While committed to the retention of existing limits, at least for the next two years Mr Jamieson said that may change in relation to construction of an international standard hotel.
During the campaign the LNP Member for Maroochydore Fiona Simpson and federal Fairfax MP Alex Somlyay both attacked Cr Blumel for failing to consult with them. She also came under fire from councillors Tim Dwyer and Russell Green, both of whom have been returned unopposed and both of whom have endorsed the Jamieson candidature.
But there have also been signs of an internal LNP power struggle between supporters of the Jamieson and Bloyce camps.
Mr Bloyce did his campaign little good through his failure to acknowledge up front his role in two Peter Slipper election campaigns while Mr Jamieson, who has run a very high-profile campaign, has give three different answers to questions about the extent of his spending.
He told this newspaper it was considerably less than the $170,000 Bob Abbot spent in 2008, the ABC two days later that he was spending about $1 a voter, of whom he estimated there were 180,000, and people in the community that it would be between $200,000 and $300,000.
Every candidate has signalled a greater focus on the needs of people with disabilities and all backed greater diversification of the regional economy.
This election will be remembered for the huge level of community engagement, with a series of well-attended forums across the region to which all candidates with the exception of Matthew Ryan-Sykes have committed themselves wholeheartedly.
They deserve commendation for the energy they have brought to the contest, as do the community groups that facilitated this important democratic function.
Mark Jamieson has galvanised a massive level of support from the business community and sections of the LNP, returning councillors and former mayors.
Cr Blumel has argued the need to "stay the course" of the first regional council's sustainability mandate and heavily emphasised a "Debbie gets things done" message.
Brett Winkler has emerged from the pack with a simple narrative that has cut through at forums.
Cr Blumel's chances will not be helped by Mr Abbot's assessment that she may lack the capacity to keep councillors working as a team for four years.
Jim Hopkins, Matthew Ryan-Sykes and Kim Edwards appear the definite back markers.
Mr Hopkins was last to declare his candidacy and has presented as a quirky sideshow rather than a contender.
Mr Ryan-Sykes has been impressive when he's appeared in public, has a grasp of issues particularly around the environment and business diversification, but lacks the profile to be considered a serious challenger.
Ms Edwards has exhibited passion and a keen understanding of the region but has essentially run a low-key campaign which may have lacked the funding to make the necessary impact.
The question remains, will the campaign's quietest voice ultimately prove the "safe hands" the community is seeking.
If there can be a dark horse in a contest as open as this one, well-known businessman Warren Blee may be it.