High Achievers - Kaylene Conrick, Chief Executive Officer Litchfield Council
After working across several Victorian local governments, Kaylene Conrick ventured to Litchfield Council in the Northern Territory, becoming its Chief Executive Officer in January last year.
At the time of Ms Conrick’s arrival, the Territory’s Local Government Minister had recently dismissed the Council and CEO of Litchfield, and the organisation was looking for someone to shake things up – an opportunity Ms Conrick has relished.
Established in the 80s, Litchfield now has one of the fastest growing populations of Territory local governments, and is transitioning to meet expanding community needs.
Nominated as a High Achiever by Litchfield’s Mayor Maree Bredhauer, Ms Conrick has had an expansive local government career – including managing a de-amalgamation in the 90s.
“I was in my early thirties when I starting working in local government,” she told Local Government Focus.
“Up until that point I had worked in the health industry and more recently in the tourism industry; I had even had a stint as a shearers’ cook working in outback Queensland and North East Victoria.”
From there she moved to a role in aged care and also undertook study in community services and commerce, completing an MBA in Public Administration.
Before entering the sector she said she “didn’t know much about local government” but as soon as she began she “loved local government from the start”.
“In the mid-nineties, after the Kennett Government Victorian Local Government amalgamations, I found myself managing Community Services for the newly-formed Delatite Shire in North East Victoria,” she said.
“This included the full range of cradle to grave community services across a large geographic municipality.”
In 2000, the Shire went through a de-amalgamation process, which Ms Conrick managed.
“Once the State Government resolved to de-amalgamate Delatite, as Director of Transition, my role evolved to manage the establishment of two new independent local government authorities; Benalla and Mansfield in 2002.
“This included the separation of everything legally, financially and operationally and the establishment of every aspect of the new councils.
“This was a fun and very intense period of my working life during which I learnt about every aspect of a Council and to which I credit my solid understanding and unique perspective to.
“It was during this period that I experienced the incredible potential of individuals, something that later influenced my decision to train as an executive coach.”
She then took on roles as Director Community and Corporate Services at Mansfield Shire Council; Chief Executive Officer at the Borough of Queenscliffe; and Chief Executive Officer at Hepburn Shire Council.
In 2011, she moved to Bayside City Council as Director Community Services.
“My time at Bayside was extraordinary,” Ms Conrick said. “I see it again as an enormous growth period; a beautiful part of Melbourne with a progressive organisation.
“However, I did miss being the Chief Executive Officer: the leader.
“In late 2015, my partner and I decided that a change of pace and an adventure was our next goal. So, here I am in the Northern Territory, working in a stunning location with Litchfield Council on the outskirts of Darwin, amid tropical bushland.”
The current council has been in place for 22 months and goes to election at the end of August.
“Our new Council has concentrated on developing key backbone policy positions and establishing good governance for Litchfield going forward,” she said.
“We have just finished the first Litchfield Long Term Financial Plan and have commenced a full review of Council’s rating system.”
She said she appreciates the accessibility of local members of Parliament, Ministers and Government in the Northern Territory.
“In Victoria, it can be hard to get the attention of Ministers; here in NT it is not unusual to be able to contact a Minister or even the Chief Minister’s Office and get an audience within a week.
“It is [also] not unusual to come across our key politicians in a social setting. “Sometimes I do Park Run on a Saturday morning in Darwin, it is one of the NT Ministers who has set up a water stop (voluntarily) and hands you a bottle of water as you sweat past!
“From an operational perspective, attracting staff can be challenging,” she said of the working in the Territory.
“The key here, even more so than anywhere else I have worked, is to build capability; identify the talent you have and work hard to retain staff by providing opportunities for growth and development.”
Ms Conrick said there are many aspects of the Chief Executive role that she enjoys.
“I like that the job is about developing people, bringing people with you … I also like that the job is often complex and messy and together with different heads and different perspectives you can work out a way through – making sense of complexity.”