This month marks the two year anniversary of Gerard José’s commencement in the role as General Manager of Greater Taree City Council. Gerard reflects on the achievements of the past two years and the goals to address vital infrastructure and community needs.
> When making the decision to move here, what were the key factors that persuaded you and Michelle that the Manning Valley was a place you could call home?
From a family perspective, the beauty of the Manning Valley and the temperate climate were both big attractions for us. We moved from the Yarra Valley in Victoria to be here, and although the Yarra Valley is also a beautiful place, the climate is not as conducive to good health as it is here. A place has to have a certain magic about it to feel like home, and we felt that the Manning Valley had all the qualities of a family-friendly place to live.
In terms of my career, I was drawn to the opportunity of a huge challenge after a 30 year local government and community sector career. Previous to Greater Taree City Council I worked at Knox Council in Melbourne. Knox has one of the largest local government community service workforces in Victoria. To take up the role of General Manager here on the north coast of NSW provides a fabulous new challenge in a fresh new environment.
> How have your initial views of the area changed over the past two years?
Our appreciation for the environment has deepened. We knew that it was a beautiful area when we came here, but some things can only be truly appreciated when you live them.
In my position as General Manager I am privileged to meet many people in the community, and that has given me tremendous respect for the scores of people who give so much of their energy to look after and protect the community’s interests. One of the favourite aspects of my job is getting out in the community and meeting people.
We recently ran a series of community forums, and I thoroughly enjoy the process of going out and speaking directly with people, particularly in the outlying villages. They are incredibly welcoming. I have visited all of our 23 villages, and each has its own unique flavour. What strikes me most is the resilience, dedication and the spirit of community. People are always striving for improvement. They are inspired to move forward and to build upon what they have already achieved.
My personal leadership style is inclusive and engaging, but there is also a strong push to make hard decisions. This is a learning curve for me, but I am embracing it with the dedication required to make real change.
I am still challenged by the expectations that surround the position that are often unrealistic – thinking that a General Manager can unilaterally acquire funds and change State and Commonwealth policy. This can be a particularly difficult misconception to overcome.
One of the things I enjoy most in my work is the passion and drive of community members I meet. There are many amazing people in the Manning Valley who are extraordinarily giving.
> What were your aspirations for Greater Taree City Council when you took on the role as General Manager?
I was and still am committed to moving Council towards being a more community-focused organisation. Sustainability is a big issue facing the world right now, and our community is no different. To meet these challenges and build a better future, we have to increase the leadership capacity within the organisation. There has been a tradition of being General Manager for four or five years and then moving on. I am the third General Manager in a decade. The organisation needs stable and consistent leadership if we are to move forward. It has always been my intention to commit to the role for the long haul.
> How have those goals changed over the past two years?
My initial aspirations are still there, and two years down the track we are closer to achieving them. My goals and ideas are still growing as I grow into the role.
There is a clear understanding within the organisation that we have to change. The old ways are no longer working. We have worked hard to move away from a complaints driven culture which can become prevalent in local government organisations, and we are becoming more successful in the way we engage with the community.
> What do you consider to be your key achievements at GTCC so far?
We have put an enormous amount of energy into strengthening Council’s focus on strategic direction and involvement in the community. It has involved an intensive look at our organisational capacity, our assets and our financial management. We have laid the ground work in preparing our organisation to change, so we can move into the future and face challenges in a sustainable way.
It is a huge undertaking. We have to move this organisation away from what I call silo-ism. This is something that happens in large organisations; people begin to identify more with the directorates they are working in, and they can be seen as competing against other areas. We are maturing into an organisation that views itself as a whole entity, not competitive directorates. I want to be known for valuing people and leadership both in the organisation and also in the community.
> In your opinion, what are the biggest issues facing our community at the present time?
The biggest challenge facing our area is that we are not a wealthy community, and there is not enough additional funding coming in externally. We need greater access to the resources required to maintain our area. There is an identified need to rehabilitate our infrastructure, but we also need to invest in new ways of supporting the community. We all know about the current sustainability challenges that face Greater Taree Council and the Manning Valley.
My personal belief is that we have a huge challenge regarding our current and future infrastructure network, and meeting the huge shift in community expectations – particularly in regards to pedestrian and bikeway access, as opposed to a cars only network. The exciting challenge is to address both of these needs so that we can meet the real needs of the community of the future. I believe that pathways connect people and communities. Roadways are often only travelled upon.
We need to appreciate the rich heritage and culture of our indigenous community and the incredible value they provide to our community. The Biripi people of the Manning Valley area are the current custodians of one of the oldest living cultures on the planet. We need to address the social issues of today and understand them for what they really are – a direct result of past actions of injustice and cruelty, perpetuated by a government culture of ignorance and indifference.
It is for us today to find a way to move forward together. Community is built on loving connections, mutual respect, learning and giving. No community in the world can grow and flourish based on sustained selfishness. Guidance and shared understanding is the key.
> You have recently asked the community to imagine itself in 20 years time. If you had to provide a vision of Council in 20 years time, what would it be?
My vision of the ideal Greater Taree City Council of the future would be an organisation that is completely attuned to the needs of the community, that is, pro-active and engaging. Our staff would be multi-skilled and multi-layered. Council would display a leading awareness of community values including health and well being, environmental sustainability, social equality, justice, economic stimulation and sustainability. Values of integrity, authenticity, community engagement and active participation would be entrenched in our service delivery models.
Everything we are moving towards now should be finely tuned in 20 years time! In amongst all this, I hope Council retains its sense of humour. To have a sense of humour is an incredibly grounding thing, and you need that in both your personal and your professional life.
The spirit of a community or organisation is often found in not in the physical resources, but rather the people. Social capital is the most important invisible asset that requires constant attention, investment and nurturing. If staff are happy and motivated, it follows that the community is going to receive the best value of service.
> Thank you Gerard.