This month we spoke with Deb Larwood, CEO of The District Council of Kimba, about her role, the challenges she sees in the region's future and how Council is preparing itself to overcome them.
What is your current role and what does it involve?
I am currently employed as the Chief Executive Officer of The District Council of Kimba and have been in that role for nearly three years. This involves overseeing the strategic operations of Council including asset management, finance, strategic planning, governance and human resources, as well as working closely with the elected body of Council.
What is your favourite thing about your role?
I really enjoy the opportunity to work closely with the community and the elected members to help achieve their goals for the Kimba District. Local Government is a unique organisation and prior to working within the sector I didn’t realise how extensive and varied a role a Council plays. I like being actively involved in the community and enjoy the chance it gives me to play my part in helping the community prosper and reach its full potential. This is also made more appealing through working within the community in which I live, whose residents are resilient innovators embracing emerging economic opportunities to position the town for a sustainable and vibrant future.
What is your career background to date?
I performed in the role of Manager Corporate Services at the District Council of Kimba for a period of ten years before becoming the CEO. Prior to my involvement in Local Government I worked in the banking sector as well as being what I term a professional volunteer with an involvement in a vast number of community organisations.
You have been a member of LG Professionals, SA for over 10 years! How does this membership benefit both you and your council?
For me probably the most significant benefit I have received is the opportunity to network with other CEO’s and staff members of Council, as well as using LG Professionals, SA training and conference forums to enhance my capabilities as a CEO. Over the course of my 12 year career in Local Government I have been fortunate to attend around 8-9 of the LG Professionals Australia National Conferences, as well as numerous state conferences, CEO Forums along with completing the Professional Leaders Program, a three-day intensive leadership session and a number of other training initiatives.
I believe that professional development is an essential component of both the CEO role and the leadership role and see the training that not only I have undertaken, but also other Council staff and the elected body as an investment in the organisation. LG Professionals, SA allows this training and exposure to other information gathering forums to be readily accessible. It is centred on Local Government and showcases the expertise they have in this area, as well as providing an opportunity to network with other individuals involved in the sector.
To ensure the benefits of LG Professionals, SA is available across the organisation the District Council of Kimba currently provides membership to the Senior Management team. In addition, in November 2018 Council sent the applicable administration staff to the LG Professionals, SA Women's Network Conference, not only as an acknowledgement of their commitment to Council throughout the year, but as an opportunity to expand their local government knowledge and develop relationships with other Council personnel. The feedback from this conference by staff was extraordinarily complimentary and the benefits gained have far exceeded the cost to Council. It is my intent to make this event an annual sojourn for administration staff when possible.
You are registered to undertake the Executive Leaders Program, which will commence in August. What are you most looking forward to as part of this program?
At the recent NGA Congress, David Pich from the Institute of Managers and Leaders ran a session on ‘the six layers of intentional leadership’ and categorised the term ‘the accidental leader’. I identified with his theories and recognised the need to be well versed in the art of leadership. I am constantly looking at ways of improving management leadership capabilities and am looking forward to the insight the program will provide me in this area. I am keen to hear the concepts around traversing changing environments and enhancing our adaptive thinking capabilities.
Local Government is constantly evolving, and I think that as CEO’s we need all the help we can get to navigate through these times. In addition, the networking that is always a component of these programs provides us with the ability to see what other Councils’ are doing in the Local Government Sector.
In these times of constant change, there is a huge focus on planning for the future. What initiatives are District Council of Kimba implementing to enable you to be future ready?
When it comes to summing up Kimba Council’s attitude to planning for the future, the best three words to describe Council’s approach would be innovation, adaptation and community.
Kimba is lucky to have a progressive Council who are open to looking beyond the traditional means of future proofing both the Council and the community. A key focus and priority for Council is playing a proactive role in the recruitment of a doctor to provide GP Services to our town and hospital. Whilst it is not a traditional role of local government bodies, Council has chosen to campaign strongly with other tiers of government and have allocated significant funds to secure this service.
Council is also in the throes of completing a Community and Economic Development Strategy. Over the past two years we have secured in excess of two million dollars in grant funding which has allowed us to complete such projects from playgrounds, independent and affordable aged accommodation to water catchment initiatives. Tourism is also a focus and Council has set up a self-contained camping area to increase tourism visitation to our town.
In the 2019-20 budget, funds have been included to develop plans for a potential expansion to the Council-owned health centre. We are also investigating power line undergrounding and upgrades to the main street. All of these initiatives are part of the long-term planning of the Council and will be included as part of Council’s Strategic Plan review which is underway.
From the perspective of the District Council of Kimba it is all about Council positioning itself to be able to maximise all the opportunities that present into the future.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for your council, and regional councils more generally?
The biggest challenge I see for the District Council of Kimba, and many other regional Councils, is the current declining population of the district and the challenges this creates in the community through the constant need to lobby for the continuation of infrastructure development and service delivery. Subsequently, this flows into a decline in people using facilities which then presents Council with a difficult decision as to what is the best use of Council resources and where these limited resources should be allocated. Do we prioritise the playground, or do we allocate these funds to assets better utilised within the community? There is a perception within communities, including Kimba, that Council’s should keep operating these assets long-term even when the numbers do not support the decision. ‘Councils need to do more with less’ is a common mantra that we hear and this is becoming more prevalent as time goes on. This issue is also exacerbated with the constant cost-shifting we see from other levels of government and along with the effects of declining population Council’s long-term sustainability and the capacity to maintain adequate level of services to the community is at risk into the future.
Finally – what do you enjoy outside of work? How do you spend your leisure time?
I am currently studying a Bachelor of Government and Public Management, which takes up a considerable portion of my spare time. With the little bit that’s left over I enjoy reading, travelling, catching up with family and friends on a regular basis and watching a good movie. Shopping is also a favourite past time of mine and one I’m very good at.