Two years ago, what was then known as the District Council of Mallala, was in turmoil.
The organisation was bleeding staff, morale was low, and respect amongst its constituents was even lower.
Councillors were in-fighting, organisational structures lacking and there was a mayoral resignation.
A number of chief executive officers tried to fix the problems but with little effect and even more cost to council.
Fast forward to 2017 and current CEO, James Miller, is beaming with the progress the council has made.
In a report titled “Our Journey – 2 Years On” presented to councillors at its November ordinary meeting, Mr Miller, heaped praise on the hard work, dedication and efforts of all staff.
He lauded the council’s strength of character in standing firm in the face of intense media and peer pressure, and touted the re-branding process as a lynch-pin in the shift towards a better future.
“It is precisely two years ago the then-named District Council of Mallala was perhaps at its lowest ebb,” he asserted.
“November 2015: Mayor’s pending resignation; CEO tenure in doubt; office relocation furore; Pinery fire imminent; relationships fractured at all levels; high staff turnover; poor governance frameworks; administration intervention touted.
“The council was in crisis.”
Mr Miller said against that backdrop, and noting two years has elapsed since these events, it was timely to reflect on the journey and to acknowledge the achievements APC has delivered for its community.
“What we’ve achieved since then has been quite extraordinary,” he said.
“We’ve seen the stabilisation of this organisation.
“It’s been a big rebuild.”
Some of the achievements noted by the CEO in his report was the organisational rebranding and council name change; delivery of the Strategic Plan 2017-2020; advancement of the Northern Food Bowl Protection Areas DPA; ongoing development and assistance of the NAIS project; successfully remedying a failed Mallala CWMS scheme; adoption of the Two Wells Stormwater Management Plan; reviewed and updated the long term financial plan; and debt reduction.
“Total debt reduction over two years is $4.2m,” Mr Miller noted.
“We’ve achieved some fantastic things in regards to debt reduction.”
Other noteworthy achievements outlined in the report include delivering a conservative annual business plan and budget; improved engagement with council members and community; adoption of a revised asset management plan; proclamation of the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary; and a successful organisational restructure with a focus on governance, finance, development and infrastructure.
Mr Miller pointed out, that during the past two years, council has also secured a new executive leadership team and had run three supplementary elections for new council members.
“As head of the administration I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the tremendous support provided by my executive leadership team and all staff in advancing so many pivotal platforms in such a short period of time,” he said.
“Adelaide Plains Council has perhaps delivered more in a two-year period than what many councils would forward plan over one or possibly two terms.
“It is important to acknowledge Adelaide Plains Council is indeed a growth council being administered by a small number of dedicated staff by comparison to our neighbouring councils.
“The achievements this council has delivered since November 2015 have been remarkable and I congratulate council members and administration alike for their collective efforts over this challenging period.
“Adelaide Plains Council exists to serve its community and remains committed to providing the best level of service to its ratepayers.
“We’ve got some exciting things ahead of us.”
APC mayor, Tony Flaherty, welcomed the CEO’s report and agreed the council’s standing in the community had grown significantly in the past two years.
Mr Flaherty said this was reflected in conversations he recently had with his peers while attending the LGA annual conference and AGM.
“Our council staff got so much praise and our CEO, he’s a bit of a rock star amongst CEOs,” he said.
“I think our staff are really good.”
But despite all the advancements Mr Miller attests to, APC is being held accountable by the close scrutiny of the Adelaide Plains Ratepayers and Residents Association (APRRA).
Members of this group regularly attend council meetings to voice their concerns, or those of local residents, as was the case on Monday November 20 when APRRA public officer, Neil Slater, spoke on behalf of one ratepayer who was struggling to pay her rates.
APRRA president, John Lush, believes the report glosses over a lot of the problems prevalent in the area.
“I think there was a fair bit of spin in that report,” Mr Lush stated when contacted by the Echo.
“Whilst there were some points in there I would concede are valid, there were a lot of things in there he didn’t talk about on the negative side.
“This is not a two-year journey for us, it’s a lifetime journey.
“We’re keeping in mind what has happened in the last three, four years, and what’s going to happen in the next three or four years when he’s long gone.”
Mr Lush cited the closing of the Mallala hospital, the failed Mallala CWMS scheme and the closing of the town’s caravan park as just some of the failures of the APC, and this was just looking at his home community of Mallala.
“The CWMS was a total failure with effluent flowing down the street,” he said.
“We’ve lost our caravan park and the tourism aspect of the town is gone, that was a major blow to the town really.
“Now there’s nowhere for them to stay really except for on what I would call a quarry site.”
Mr Lush said APC had a responsibility to plan for and deliver health, tourism, economic and social outcomes for the area.
“In my mind they’re not addressing those things properly,” he said.
“I’m starting to wonder if there is any hope.”
The APRRA has engaged the services of a lawyer to explore whether the council is complying with its obligations under the act, and if not, how it can be held accountable.
Councillor Jones spoke to the report and was disappointed at parts of it, saying it was a great synopsis and he had “enjoyed the ride”.
“(But) singling out one community group, this is the sort of thing that disconnects us from the community,” he told the chamber.
However, Cr Strudwicke disagreed with Cr Jones’ assertion, saying instead the report highlighted its willingness to converse with the community and in fact addressed community concerns with council by acknowledging them in the report.
“It addresses the progress we’ve made,” Cr Strudwicke said.
“There’s no negative comments from council to the community.”
The report is available to read online at council’s website, look under agendas for November.