Council executives on 2020 and what’s to come
ROCKHAMPTON Regional Council began the year with Margaret Strelow as mayor and despite being voted back to the table at the March election, the orgainsation is seeing the year out with a mayoral vacancy.
Looking back over 2020 with Mrs Strelow’s shock resignation and the COVID-19 global pandemic, it has been quite a year to remember.
The Morning Bulletin is running features with our local politicians and councils.
Here is what the top bosses at Rockhampton Regional Council had to say.
“This time last year when we were all reflecting on 2019, we had absolutely no idea what was in store for us in 2020,” Acting Mayor Neil Fisher said.
“It’s definitely been a year that I’ll put on my anti-bucket list.”
“However when the tough gets going I believe that’s when we really step up.”
Cr Fisher commended the council and the community on facing the challenges brought by COVID-19 with resilience, determination, unity, and strength.
“The way people stepped up to help each other during some very difficult times is a wonderful reflection of the values of our community, and I hope that people will take the time to nominate those groups and individuals for our Australia Day Awards so they can receive the public recognition they deserve,” he said.
In response to the pandemic, the council announced a $1.3 million relief package for businesses and community groups while maintaining a robust workforce of 925 full-time equivalent employees, and worked closely with community groups to develop and roll out a COVID-19 grant program.
Come November, another bombshell hit with Cr Strelow tendering her resignation after it was found she was guilty of misconduct.
The Councillor Conduct Tribunal required her to apologise and amend her Register of Interest, however Mrs Strelow disagreed with the verdict and felt she had no other option.
“We faced other challenges too, not least the sudden resignation of former Mayor Margaret Strelow,” Cr Fisher said.
“Margaret was a fierce advocate for the region and I’d like to pay tribute to her tireless work and dedication during her stewardship of our community.”
As a whole, there had been some positives of the tumultuous year, Cr Fisher said.
“I am proud that we have continued to invest in our region,” he said.
“We were already seeing some flow-on benefits from construction at the Carmichael Mine beginning, and we supported these benefits with our own incentives packages, including a new home builder’s grant and our resources sector incentives scheme.
“We also further cemented our reputation as the Gateway to Northern Australia after being the host city to this year’s Developing Northern Australia Conference.
“We continued to grow as a centre for innovation and start-ups.
“Our award-winning SmartHub provided support and assistance to more than 100 start-ups and small businesses owners, and facilitated a select number of entrepreneurs to take part in Turbo-Traction Lab – an innovative and hands-on program supported by the Australian Government and a generous contribution from Rocky expat and technology entrepreneur Bevan Slattery.
“It was a pleasure to welcome Darumbal Elders to the Jim Webber Reception Room, the site of Rockhampton’s most important Civic Ceremonies, to mark the installation of a custom made carpet depicting the Darumbal clans and their journey towards native title consent determination. It is fitting that this important work of the traditional owners of the land now sits in pride of place at City Hall.
“Council invested $96.1 million on capital works projects throughout the 2019/20 financial year, boosting our local economy and driving job creation.
“We spent $10.7 million in our rural road network and thanks to our strong local preference policy we also spent $113.3 million on goods and services from local businesses within the Rockhampton Regional Council boundaries.
“Earlier this year Council faced some very difficult decisions around the budget, yet we focused on bringing relief to as many people as we could, while revealing a record $170 million capital program to help stimulate the local economy.”
In terms of major projects, the airport and art gallery lead the pack.
“We are seeing significant progress on the long-awaited Rockhampton Museum of Art – a project which has received funding from all three levels of government – and were the first regional airport in the country to reveal the new state of the art body scanners and baggage screening equipment required by the Australian Government’s Strengthening Aviation Security Initiative,” Cr Fisher said.
In the tourism sphere, the Nurim Circuit at Mount Archer was even named as a Travellers’ Choice Winner.
“We have also been lucky enough to have some brand new residents to the zoo – baby chimp Gandali and a cheeky mob of meerkats, which I’m sure will bring some smiles and laughter over the upcoming school holidays.”
Cr Fisher remained positive in his final message.
“While we know that the financial impacts and uncertainty of COVID-19 will continue into 2021, I am proud to say that as a community we have come together to weather the storm this year, and I have absolute confidence that we will continue to thrive as we move forward,” he said.
CEO Evan Pardon has been in the role since 2010.
While 2020 has been more than challenging, he was proud the council had been able to invest and improve the community.
“What stands out for me about this year is not the challenges we faced due to COVID-19 or the financial impact: it’s the way that our staff responded,” he said.
“I say often that our greatest strength at council is our people, and this year that was more apparent than ever.
“When the scale of this pandemic became clear our organisation was able to respond quickly because of the hard work and dedication of our staff.”
Mr Pardon thanked the IT Service Team for their “tremendous job” in enabling hundreds of council staff to work from home.
He noted customer facing areas found new ways to engage with the region through social media and adjusted services.
“Across the organisation we all learned new ways of communicating and collaborating, and I am extremely proud of the way our people adjusted,” he said.
“Those in roles which couldn’t be performed remotely worked hard to find ways to continue to deliver essential services while still protecting themselves and their community.
“Our crews continued to pick up the bins, provide the water, and maintain our 167 parks and 970 hectares of public land.
“Our civil operations and project teams kept up with all the maintenance, capital works, and major projects during lockdown, which kept lots of local contractors in work too.”
Looking ahead to the future of the region next year, Mr Pardon is feeling confident.
“I know that there are still challenging times ahead,” he said.
“However this year I believe Rockhampton Regional Council truly demonstrated our commitment to our values and served our community well.
”These values will continue to guide us as we move into 2021.”