High Achievers - Shire President Karen Chappel Shire of Morawa
You could say local government is in Karen Chappel’s blood. The Shire President at the Shire of Morawa in Western Australia has a brother and father who were both shire presidents in their time.
Morawa is 360kms northeast of Perth. It is predominantly agricultural country, but boosted by iron-ore mining. A renowned wildflower season brings a flow of tourists to the region from July to September each year.
Councillor Chappel has lived in the area since 1994 and said it is a very community-oriented place to live.
“We have a K-12 District High School, an Agricultural College, and a hospital – these three offer significant employment for the town.
“The community is very much volunteer-driven; the sport and recreation facilities are first class and I love the fact that there is no intergenerational gap: at any event there will be five year olds up to 80 year olds, treating each other with respect and interacting – this kinship encourages safety for young and old.”
Morawa’s former acting Chief Executive Officer Sean Fletcher nominated Cr Chappel as a Local Government Focus ‘High Achiever’.
“A good relationship between the Shire President and the CEO is critical to the effectiveness of Council,” Cr Chappel said. “A local government will thrive if this relationship is open, trusting and respectful; just as it will wilt if it is not.”
She has a varied career background: “I am a partner in a broad acre farming enterprise. I worked as a bank officer in various roles over a 20-year period before then becoming a licenced postal manager from 1995 until 2006.”
She now focuses on local government and voluntary work and said she stood for Council to have a positive influence on the future of the area.
“I believe that local government has a role in ensuring that the community is planning for our future generations.”
But there was another detail that might have given her a nudge in the local government direction: “My father and brother were both shire presidents of the neighbouring shire, so I guess it is also in the genes.”
Cr Chappel said a highlight was receiving a scholarship to further her understanding of local government: “I was awarded a scholarship from the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) in 2011 to undertake a Diploma in Local Government (Elected Member) and I completed this the following year.”
She also takes pride in mentoring and encouraging other councillors.
“I have twice been appointed as part of a mentoring team to work with returning local governments – this work is so rewarding.
“To encourage the councillors and see them gain confidence and become part of effective councils gives you a sense of achievement and that you are making difference to the industry.”
A key challenge facing Morowa is sustainability of its rate base, Cr Chappel said.
“We cannot expect to continue to just raise our rates ... most of our [ratepayers] are farmers and it’s not justifiable.
“Local government must take a very good look at itself and soundly consider the future.”
A goal for Cr Chappel is to see the development of a local government CEO graduate program.
“This program could encourage new CEOs and give recruiting councils confidence in the recruitment process and that the new CEO has the appropriate skill set – a win-win
for the industry.”
Apart from that, her plans are simple: “I just wish to keep striving for the benefit of local government and the community of Morawa.”