THE calendar shows a year has passed though it only seems like yesterday when I was thrust into the lion’s den. I was thrilled to be elected to council through the enthusiastic support of my local community but it was incredibly humbling to be driving from Rhyll to Wonthaggi to become Cr Rothfield. There was much to contemplate.
I was comfortable with the challenges of running my own businesses but this was different. This was local government. Having stood on a platform of improved financial responsibility and getting a “better deal for the Island”, meeting the expectations of friends and supporters who were now constituents weighed heavily in my thoughts.
That trip from the Island was the culmination of a long and hard-fought struggle against strong campaigners. Discussions had often been robust, to put it politely. The fiscal woes of the council were almost legendary and I had vehemently highlighted the need for change. A catalogue of issues that had been poorly handled by what appeared to be an inert bureaucracy needed to be resolved.
A recurring thought was that something said cannot be unsaid, especially when reported in the media. How were these people, that is, council staff, going to treat me – especially given the adversarial position I adopted in the campaign?
Another consideration was that there were nine of us coming together to form a fresh team. Thankfully one of the previous councillors had been returned and her experience would be invaluable. Should I put my hand up to be mayor? This was our council, not “the” council or “that” council but our council. Such a responsibility and I could see some challenges.
So it was with an element of trepidation that we came together, nine people who barely knew each other, from a variety of backgrounds and amazing life experiences to start to learn the role of a councillor and get a handle on the “rules of the trade”.
How do I view this year in the Chair? Initially, we all carried an element of relief that the battle of the election was behind us – but still there was a degree of “licking of the wounds”.
In those first weeks I was feeling a little intimidated, perhaps a little unsure – but what shocked me to the core was the professionalism of the council staff, from the CEO down. In my 40-plus years of working life, I don’t think I have worked with a more professional and impartial group of people. I now reflect on how skewed one’s impression can be – looking in from the outside.
So, we all just got to work straight away, putting the politics and past aside, and started to develop a wonderful working relationship – which is, of course, needed in order to move forward.
I had much to learn – a mountain of reading, understanding strategies, schemes and plans. Then, of course, the control of ordinary meetings – digesting the standing orders. By January, I was feeling on top of the job and right at home in my office – mandatory family photo on the desk with a mirror and lipstick in the top drawer.
This was when we also embarked on community engagement sessions throughout the shire, for the Council Plan. This gave me the opportunity to get out and meet more staff members and the community – I loved the experience and continued to be in awe of the dedication and passion of the staff.
Behind closed doors, councillors were getting to know each other – at first there seemed to be an element of ward councillors sticking together – comfort in the familiar – but slowly the thaw was happening and constructive and robust “Councillor Only” meetings were being held, in which burning issues were dealt with.
Fast forward nine months, and we have what I believe to be the most constructive, intelligent and dedicated council I have seen in the last 15 years. We are all travelling down the river, in different canoes – but in the same direction.
We don’t always agree – but we do have respect for each other’s opinion. Each councillor comes from a basis of community and/or environmental good. There are no hidden agendas, no grandstanding and no block voting. I am so proud to have been elected in this council term – as I think it is very rare to find such talent and dedication that we currently have on the Bass Coast Shire Council.
It’s been a great year. Beside that mirror, I keep a list of commitments that is becoming a list of achievements. At the end of my term, that will be an interesting report card. I look forward to the remaining three years to see what progress we make.