Michael Regan, Mayor Northern Beaches Council
Choosing a favourite part – that would be like nominating a favourite child.
Our incredible beaches, spectacular bushland, café culture and of course our laid back and generous community are our greatest assets! We are lucky enough to have 80km of coastline, 21 surf beaches, 15 rockpools and manage 122 sportsfields, 254 playgrounds, six libraries, two galleries, two aquatic centres, 15 child care sites and even a theatre.
We are one of the largest councils in NSW by population with around 270,000 residents, covering some 254 square km. We have around 1800 dedicated staff, 80 percent live locally so are passionate about how Council can contribute to their area.
Our annual budget of around $360 million includes almost $100 million for capital works. There is always plenty going on.
I stood up rather than spoke up
I started in local government as a clerk back in 1990, when I was just 17, at the City of Sydney.
But my interest in elected council started when I was playing cricket and the pitch we were playing on had sunk so far into the ground you could not run in and bowl. I decided to put my hand up then rather than write a letter or complain.
At that time, Warringah Council was in administration again and the next election was a year away so I got a team together and the rest is history.
The area had been neglected – there was no financial plan, no assets management plan.
Eight years on, we were able to turn the staff culture around to a high performing one, the finances were in great shape for the long term and community satisfaction was the highest it has ever been. We were acknowledged with a heap of awards culminating in the prestigious Bluett Award in 2015.
Understanding and explaining
My previous experience, especially in local government allows me to understand the nature of someone’s issue quickly and help identify a solution, or better still, explain in plain English what staff are saying.
That goes for explaining legislation too. The average person just doesn’t understand how local government relates to the state and federal levels and how it then applies to them personally.
And being Mayor has given me new skills in managing meetings, in particular public meetings, people, and being an effective chairperson and board member. When I do get time off, spending time with my two boys is always the first priority. They are teens now - time flies as they say. I also like to watch cricket (no time to play anymore), or travel when I can fit it in.
Three becomes one – finding new ways
We amalgamated Manly, Warringah and Pittwater councils in 2016. Our challenge has been bringing three very different cultures together while keeping business as usual for residents. We have a fantastic new CEO in Ray Brownlee and great leadership team, dedicated staff and our community are starting to see the results.
We have endorsed our first transport strategy to reduce traffic and emissions and support more innovative transport options.
We are well on the way to delivering an incredible 36km Coast Walk, from Manly to Palm Beach and currently consulting on an art trail to complement it.
We are working with Lake Macquarie Council and other government and university partners on an innovative Smart Beaches trial which monitors conditions and demand in real time to make our beaches safer. And we’ve even recently implemented a seahorse relocation project to ensure they were unharmed during some of our tidal pool maintenance activities.
A successful amalgamation
I think having 28,000 households from our area write to the Premier saying either amalgamate us as one council, or leave us alone was pretty successful. The amalgamation needed to happen. And it is working and the community across the Northern Beaches will continue to benefit. Many sceptics in our community who were opposed are now saying how good it is. We are a long way from being perfect but we will strive to be. It’s just nice to hear the feedback from those once opposed.
Building a solid foundation
My best? Meeting new people every other day and assisting them with their issues and ideas – supporting them or pointing them in the right direction. There are some amazing quiet achievers out there doing so much for their local community.
My worst? Honestly, it’s the great unspoken issue…the lack of salary compared to the hours you put in and no access to superannuation. Of course you don’t do these kinds of roles for the money but you still have families to feed, and if you are like me and are in it for the long haul, that’s a good ten years of superannuation or more you can miss out on.
It will get increasingly difficult to attract good people to run for local government if we don’t look at this issue.
My legacy? We get to write history when you think about it. Decisions we make today, can impact communities for decades. I hope when I am done, I can say I helped lead a team that left the place in better shape than when we took over.