This month marks just over six months since the District Council of Mallala appointed a new mayor in Lewiston councilor, Duncan Kennington. He will be one of the last mayors to be elected by a panel of his peers, as the council changes to a community-elected mayor at the 2014 elections. Bec O’Brien chatted with Mr Kennington about what the first half of his term has been like, what challenges he sees ahead for council, and discussed some of the priorities he has for the district.
In his first six months as mayor, Mr Kennington has so far seen the role as both challenging and rewarding.
In his sixth year as a councillor, the last before this as deputy mayor, Mr Kennington says his time at the “helm” has definitely been a big learning curve.
A curve not without its challenges but one also with a great deal of satisfaction and pride.
“The mayor’s role has been very rewarding (and) it’s certainly time consuming,” he reflected.
“But the connections with people is what’s really important.
“Getting the chance to witness and be part of, to celebrate the really positive things that happen in our district, is fantastic.”
Events such as Anzac Day and the new citizens ceremony on Australia Day, bring the community together, he says.
It is at such events Mr Kennington relishes the opportunity to listen to the people, a role he says is vitally important for any councillor, and being able to attend community meetings, to meet a broad cross-section of residents, has given him the chance to speak with locals and hear what they are concerned about.
“You have to be prepared to make the time for people, you have to listen to the residents, and I get this chance at community meetings,” he said.
So what then are some of the things Mr Kennington sees as issues for the District Council of Mallala?
Over the next decade, he has flagged flooding, population increase, communication pathways with council and residents, planning, and budgeting as areas the council needs to prepare for and manage better.
His three main priorities, in no particular order are:
o Continued consultation and communication between council and the community
o Developing and maintaining open and public spaces
o Budgeting and dealing with natural disasters.
Mr Kennington says flooding is one of the big challenges facing DCM in coming years due to a number of factors, including the possibility of flooding from the Gawler or Light rivers and coastal flooding due to rising sea levels.
It is an issue that needs to be faced head on, he says, and one which council is currently working on with its flood management plan, part of an overall mitigation strategy for the region.
“In addition the global economic system is not considered as robust as it once was,” Mr Kennington added.
“The best insurance against economic downturns for our district is sound and frugal budgeting into the future so we have fat in the system if required.
“There will be challenges in the future we are not aware of now, so we need a cohesive community and a wise and democratic council to deal with these challenges as they arise.”
Thoughtful forward planning is the key to managing these issues, Mr Kennington believes, saying budget surpluses should be the norm not the exception in the long term.
With Two Wells earmarked as part of the State Government’s 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide, the proposed Hickinbotham residential development north of the town is an important project in the scheme of things. Mr Kennington admits there are positives and negatives to the venture, like many projects.
Much of the ground work for the development has been done, with council and Hickinbotham signing agreements as to who will pay for what and pledging to work together and with the community to make it successful.
Mr Kennington, like many other residents is hopeful the project will maintain our country lifestyle.
“I think it (the Hickinbotham development) brings with it certain challenges, and certain rewards and we’ll have to wait and see how that goes,” he remarked.
“It could bring with it facilities, in theory attract things like transport, hospitals, schools, retirement villages, sporting facilities that we haven’t had, and that’s the benefit hopefully you’ll get, that’s the attraction of it.
“I’m excited about that, I think those are good things.
“If I have a concern at all it’s the possibility of chopping the land up into minute blocks.
“That country lifestyle which attracts people here in the first place will be lost if that happens.”
If more people come to the district, expectations of council and the services it provides will increase, paving the way perhaps for DCM to amalgamate with another council area.
If this happened, Mr Kennington said, the relationship between council and its constituents would diminish.
“It’s always a possibility (amalgamation) for where we are in the present tense but I’m not in favour of it,” he said.
“We have a very small population here, which I think is a good thing because we have a more personal relationship with each other.
“We can be more reactive, but the downside is we don’t have a very big resource base.
“If the population gets bigger the relationship between council and residents becomes less personal, and I think that’s what council should be about.”
Good connections with the community make a council strong, Mr Kennington explained.
But councillors also have to be strong, he said, saying they need to have a thick skin.
“We need to have the courage and integrity to make tough decisions that may not make us popular,” he said.
“The issue now is setting up the flexibility in the finances and having the community relationships in place to deal with the challenges as they arise. You’ve got to have connected communities because that’s where the strength is going to come from to challenge those issues.
“The key to handling challenges in the future is to make decisions now, but think into the future, and retain flexibility in the system to deal with any unknown challenges and to keep open minds to deal with new problems.
“Council needs to be more receptive to the community, it’s not about my vision, it’s about the residents, it’s about us as council, drawing out what the resident’s vision is, and getting the structure, the rules, getting development right, so the quality of life is right.”