Monthly words of wisdom from our head honcho and a look at our future direction

May: The Audacity of Hope

Former President Barack Obama wrote this book about the great American dream and the audacity of hoping for a brighter future. His catch cry “yes we can” captured the imagination of a nation.

I'm not going to pass comment on his presidency or that of his successor President Donald Trump and his catch cry “make America great again”. What I do want to talk about is our recovery as a community after one of the most devastating floods in a very long time.

We are all experiencing a range of emotions right now. Some are still in shock, some are in denial, some are angry and some in despair. These are all natural reactions to an event of this magnitude and we should not be dismissive of them.

As we continue on the road to recovery it is important that we are audacious; audacious in the hope that we as a community will recover and we will be strengthened not weakened by this event.

Times of adversity can make or break a person, organisation or community.

At Lismore City Council, we are determined that this event will shape us for the better not just as an organisation but as a community.

This is not some starry-eyed statement of hope; not some trite “she'll be right mate” throwaway comment. This is a statement founded on the evidence of what we have seen so far.

We have seen our passionate and committed staff together with those of neighbouring councils and contractors clear away over 11,000 tonnes of flood debris in just over two weeks. We have seen over 7000 volunteers from our community come together to help one another, to reach out, to support one another. We have seen several community and church groups rise up and help those in need. We have seen businesses open their doors within days of the flood. We have seen businesses fly large hearts outside their shops signalling they will open again. We have seen the community dig deep and raise over $200,000 for those in need. We have seen acts of compassion and love that have touched the hearts of many.

These are not the actions of a community in decline; these are the actions of a community that is determined. Determined to survive this event and determined to hope for a new post-flood future.

But let’s not kid ourselves either; there is still a long road ahead. The weeks and months ahead will be tough. We need to continue to support each other and help each other.

As a council, we will be playing our role. The volunteers, who did such an amazing job, need to get back to their own lives. The state agencies will return to business as usual, but we will still be there for you. We will support you to navigate your way through the confusion of forms and call centres. We will support you by hosting events that will lift your spirits. We will support you by steadily fixing roads and restoring services. We will continue to connect and serve our community because you are at the heart of everything we do.

We choose to be audacious and hope for a bright future.


Time for change... a broader overview of our future as an organisation

Lismore City Council has a great motto: “Am baile nach teid air agaidh, theid e air ais.”

This is Gaelic for “He who does not progress retrogresses” – a sentiment I couldn’t agree with more. For me, the status quo is not an option. We cannot sit still for if we do the world will pass us by and we will go backward. We need to constantly examine what we are doing and see if there is a different way.

This means change. Change is inevitable. Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher who lived from 535BC to 475BC, recognised this when he said, “There is nothing permanent except change.”

Changes are taking place at Lismore City Council in response to Imagine Lismore, our community strategic plan. Personally, I feel incredibly proud of what we have achieved with Imagine Lismore.

Imagine Lismore was the largest community consultation in Council’s 134-year history. Over 18 months thousands of residents were asked to identify their priorities. Feedback from the Imagine Lismore process was hugely positive and we are ready to let go of the traditional approach of deciding what our community wants for them. Our new focus is to listen, work together and deliver.

Now we have a 10-year plan and a clear direction we need to follow. We have to change to achieve those goals.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to control the future is to create it.” In a similar vein, by creating and controlling our own change, we ensure that the change is considered, measured and in line with what our community wants.

Here is a summary of how we must and will change in the next 10 years.

Asset renewal and maintenance

Council needs to redirect a total of $7.3 million each year into renewing and maintaining assets into the future. We will fix roads and improve wastewater infrastructure to cope with a growing population. Over the next decade Council will take responsible action and find the resources we need to address a legacy of asset neglect.

Our assets are our most pressing concern but we know residents need more than just bricks and mortar to make a community great. They also need us to govern well and they need a vibrant community, good economy and healthy environment. Getting this balance right is our challenge.

Delivering the Imagine Lismore vision

Council will spend almost half a million dollars on projects that progress the Imagine Lismore vision in our first year (2013/14) and this will increase each year over the next decade. The first year includes improvements to the CBD and funding our new partnering projects. More money will be allocated in future years. Many of Council’s current projects have been re-shaped to specifically align with the community’s vision and these will continue.

The community also told us they want Council to engage and communicate better. We have a new fortnightly newsletter, Local Matters, which is delivered to homes and available on line, a new website and we’ve joined social media.

We understand you want to know what’s going on in your local Council and everything we do, you have a right to know and get involved in the local democratic process when and if you so desire.

Community partnerships

We have developed a Partnering Strategy that includes 23 different projects with more than 49 partners including government and non-government agencies. We know we need to do more with less. We also know that a small amount of money can go a long way when we have community support and participation. This is how we can achieve great things in the future.

In addition to these projects, Council will move toward a model of community-based panels to engage the community and seek collaboration in improving where we live. The model represents a new way of Council doing business. We will help provide funds, guidance and facilitation to implement the priorities of each small community within our LGA.

These community panels will be place-based as we know that what people want in urban Lismore is very different to what people want at The Channon. The community panels will enable Council to begin tailoring projects to community wishes so our unique places grow in the style and character that people desire.

Getting our own house in order

Council recognises that in order to find savings for asset management and community projects, we need to do better. We need to find efficiencies within Council that improve productivity and ensure we are getting the biggest bang for our ratepayer buck. We cannot raise revenue and ask the community to collaborate with us without challenging ourselves to lead by example. We need to ensure we have an adequate skills base in our organisation and implement the Australian Business Excellence Framework. We need to maximise our output with our limited resources.

Being financially responsible

We are working toward financial sustainability over the next 10 years through Zero Based Budgeting and a Service Level Review. We need to look closely at where every dollar is spent and align our budget with the Imagine Lismore vision. We also need to be realistic about our ability to provide services. We are now reviewing and prioritising where services are most needed. As an example, we closed our CBD office. While we would have loved to keep it open, the costs were high and in the end we knew the money could be better spent somewhere else.

Of course, for me personally, affecting change also means making decisions because they are the right decisions to make, even if they are tough or seem ambitious. That is why, along with the Imagine Lismore plans (which were adopted in 2013) I have set three challenges for the organisation over the next 10 years.

These are:

  • Make Lismore City Council self-sufficient in electricity via renewable energy.
  • Make Lismore City Council as efficient and productive as the best of the private sector.
  • Relocate to a CBD office building at an acceptable cost to the community to provide economic stimulus to the CBD, the heart of our city. If the CBD flourishes, we all benefit.

For me the first goal demonstrates our need to change as an organisation. We can’t keep using fossil fuels and energy in the same way we always have. We need to look at innovation; at taking some risks; at not being afraid to embrace a new way of thinking.

People told us they want Lismore to be a model of sustainability and we have many projects that are helping us to achieve that. It is one example – among many – of where we have listened to the people and are adapting to meet our community’s expectations.

Staff are currently preparing a 10-year Energy Management Plan with options for achieving this goal. We already have some great examples. We have seen massive reductions in our energy consumption (58%) at our local aquatic centre via the installation of solar panels and heat pump variable speed drives.

We have also signed Australia’s first Memorandum of Understanding as part of the new Farming the Sun project. This could see us build a 100kW solar farm at our local treatment plant, powering the facility 24/7 for the next 10-25 years. If it works, it will be something other councils and large organisations could emulate right across Australia.

The second goal is about being responsible stewards of community assets. We have over $1.2 billion worth of roads, pipes, buildings and facilities that we must ensure are maintained now and for future generations. We are entrusted with public funds and we need to ensure these are used wisely and prudently.

Through the Australian Business Excellence Framework we are in a process of making sure our systems, processes and procedures are the best they can be. We will benchmark ourselves against our peers and the private sector.

The third goal is about showing leadership and confidence in our city. Having our office located in the CBD will create activity and increased retail spend. It will also demonstrate to private sector investors that we believe in our city and so should they. We know that relocating from Goonellabah will come at a cost and we must of course demonstrate that the costs and benefits are acceptable to the community.

And so…

In summary, we live in an ever-changing world and as an organisation we need to change in order to remain relevant to our community. It will not be an easy journey over the next few years; difficult decisions will need to be made about where funds are directed and what services are delivered.

I am confident that with the right will, robust planning and respectful engagement with our community, we will achieve our goals.