Laura Black

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Having a role in your local Council comes with a lot of hard work and dedication. As newly elected Executive Leader, Laura Black is continuing to add to her many achievements by helping council build ‘community spirit’

You have just been announced as Executive Leader for GTCC. What does this role entail?

Council has recently undergone a major restructure that has seen the functional departments replaced with process groupings that will enable greater control over delivery of services. The groupings relate to the stages of project or program development and delivery – planning, resourcing and delivering.

My appointment is to the position of Executive Leader Futures Planning. The role incorporates the community and corporate planning functions of Council, and one of the major tools will be the Manning Valley Community Strategic Plan, which identifies the key directions that the community want to see Council take.

You have been on council for some eight years, how have things changed?

I have been employed by Greater Taree City Council for a total of eight years. In 2000, as the Council’s first Youth Development Officer, and then again in 2004 as the Manager of Community Services. In this time, there have been some notable changes to the way Council does business.

Historically local Government has focussed on the delivery of services within geographical boundaries. In recent years, there has been increased recognition of the need to work and share information regionally with adjoining Councils. This in itself places local Government in unfamiliar territory as it strives to work and seek funds in alliances for very local issues.

Greater Taree has therefore, struck up a series of relationships, not only with our directly adjoining Councils, Great Lakes and Gloucester, but also more broadly with the Hunter and Mid North Coast Groups of Councils.

Another change is the great diversification of work opportunities in local Government. Less and less is local Government only about roads, rates and bridges. I’m sure residents would be astounded to learn of the many services and the professions that back those services provided by Councils.

The other levels of Government have not only delegated responsibility for many services to local Government, but they also make available funding opportunities for complimentary services. Some of the community safety and crime prevention projects coordinated by Greater Taree are a case in point.

They are saying 2010 is The Year for Women in Local Government. Do you believe so, and why?

Personally, of course what better year to achieve such a position. More broadly, I hope so. Greater Taree has started to take the issue of supporting women in the workforce more seriously, with the establishment of the Women in Local Government Action Team late last year to ensure Council’s compliance with the National Framework for Women in Local Government.

The Framework not only seeks to address barriers facing female employees but also female elected representatives.

What are some of the struggles and highlights women face on Council?

Local government is notoriously a male dominated workforce, particularly in areas of management, professional and outdoor. Like any business sector this will not change without policy that supports women in the workforce.

The point that is often forgotten is that women are most likely to also be the family care-givers and workplaces that don’t support those dual roles are likely to miss out on the skills that such multi task oriented people bring with them. The same applies to the elected body. At Greater Taree only two out of nine Councillors are female.

The Women’s Action Team is keen to ensure that Council is an employer of choice.

You have done some great things for the youth of the area, what has been one of the most succesful?

Probably my most significant memory is the establishment of the Taree Street Beat project and observing the rapport that the very talented and experienced staff built with young people.

The project itself has been deemed ‘Best Practice’ by the NSW Department of Justice and Attorneys General, and even won an Australian Crime Prevention Award.

I’m not sure that the community realises the drastic impact that it has on minimising the involvement of young people in crime and anti social behaviour.

You are involved in the creative side of the area (art galleries, PCYC, Youth Week) Will this change in your new role?

Luckily the Executive Leader Futures Planning gets to be involved in the creation of many of Council’s activities. The planning of these sorts of programs and services was always my passion and it’s what attracted me to the role in the first place.

Council has developed a community strategic plan, what will flow from that?

Staff involved in the Futures Planning team have been crucial to the community engagement that has led to the development of the Manning Valley Community Strategic Plan, so I think the community can expect many of the environmental, social and land use projects that came to fruition early in the piece, will be identified by that process.

The other side of the role of course, deals with corporate planning and the community can expect to see a more community focussed and customer responsive organisation very soon.

You enjoyed a previous career in the welfare sector. How did this affect you?

Working in the welfare sector, face to face with clients affected by trauma and disadvantage, really is the end of the line. So often the systems have failed these individuals and families, and this experience has had a resounding effect on my career decisions.

I am quite passionate about instigating change so that disadvantage doesn’t have that pointed ended detrimental impact on people. This was the reason I moved toward community development and community capacity building structured positions.

What do you love about this area?

I’m not from here, so I don’t have family ties other than my immediate family. I live near the beach and I love the clean salty air there. I love to travel, but I also love to return home. The Manning is peaceful, calm and refreshing – it provides a less stressful way of life.

Thank you Laura.

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