This month, we speak to Helen Christie from the Town of Gawler.
Hi Helen - What is your professional background?
I have over sixteen years of experience working in the Community Care sector. I worked for two not-for-profit organisations, then eight years ago moved into local government.
Community Care targets older residents, the younger disabled and their carers, with the majority of funding from the State and Commonwealth government. Most councils have a Home Assist program and many have social support programs and centres.
My roles at council have allowed me both the satisfaction of making a difference in people’s lives at a face to face level, and more holistically, coordinating programs, events and funding submissions, using my administrative background.
What Council are you currently working at, and how long have you been there?
I have been working at the Town of Gawler for just over eighteen months.
Why did you decide to work for a country council?
I previously enjoyed working for one of the largest metropolitan councils who is in a position to recruit people with specialist skills and even have teams for areas where Gawler may have one (or sometimes part of a) position dedicated to. While these are excellent resources for an organisation, on a personal level I had broader interests.
I am grateful for the opportunity provided by the metro council of a small stint of exposure to the governance section and an organisational communication project, however both left me wanting to learn more about council outside of Community Care. Gawler has allowed me to broaden my horizons, while I still primarily look after the Home Assist Team, I am also presently looking after the Immunisation and Graffiti teams.
What are the key differences between a country council and metro?
What I first noticed moving to Gawler was the community itself, the age of the town and the number of residents with a family history in Gawler, perhaps all these contribute to the community ownership and participation. Elected members are well known and very active in the community. More staff reside locally (or in a bordering council), with a higher personal stake and awareness in council activities.
The main difference between the two is the infrastructure. Larger councils have access to the finances and specialist resources to undertake some truly amazing projects. The level of expertise, professionalism and of course sheer volume larger councils deliver, support the demands made of metro councils.
In meeting country council objectives, smaller councils have particular advantages as staff tend to know more about other council departments and the local community.
I have found staff quickly connect to the best person to assist and a familiarity fostering an environment of helping each other out.
What do you like most about your role?
The diversity of my position keeps me engaged and challenged on a regular basis. I enjoy working with staff across council, supporting each other and knowing we make a real contribution. My belief in the community programs we provide is amplified by level of support we have from residents and the valuable contribution made by volunteers.
How would you describe working for a country council as a career development step?
Metro and country councils have different demands placed upon them, something I now have a greater understanding of. It is also fascinating to observe the same problem handled two different ways due to the size and culture of an organisation.
It has been a rewarding experience for me to see the best of both worlds and worthwhile for anyone looking to challenge their thinking.
What other involvement do you have in Local Government?
In 2010 I undertook the Emerging Leaders program. Sharing a career and personal development journey with participants from a range of councils, I really enjoyed this local government specific leadership program. I have made some great friends and gained an appreciation of different positions within council, and some insight into the differences in process and expectations between councils.
I am the Vice Chair of the Emerging Leaders Alumni. This group provides quarterly professional development sessions and of course the opportunity to maintain and further develop networks with other Emerging Leaders.
Why are you a member of LGMA SA?
After being involved in the 2009 LGMA challenge and the 2010 Emerging Leaders Program, I became more aware of the opportunities for professional development.
Membership keeps me linked with relevant forums and the opportunity to network with a diverse range of people who all appreciate the complexities of working in local government.