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Pastures new lie ahead for Perth City Council chief

AFTER eight years as chief executive officer of the Perth City Council, no one significant issue stands out as a highlight for Garry Hunt.

Mr Hunt is to leave the council to join Governance Management Services, which he formed with three others last year, as soon as a replacement for him can be found .

One of his last official council functions will be to judge entries in Business News’ 40 Under 40 program.

“My achievements fit into three categories: organisational, customer service and inter-governmental,” Mr Hunt said.

“When I first started with the council, I had to break up the old Perth City Council and build

the new one, so the inter-governmental side was big.

“It was a big challenge for me because, until then, all of the organisations I’d been involved with had been rapidly expanding. I’d never had to dismantle and rebuild one before.

“We had a State government that had caused the restructure, that had strong views on what it felt the central city should be and was committed to an upgrade of the central city. It had also put money into upgrading certain areas.

“For the major part of my

first year I was operating under government-appointed commissioners.

“In terms of customer focus, we had to move away from a residential focus to a more business focus – particularly towards the top end of town.

“We had to make sure that what we were doing and promoting had relevance to them.”

There are 10 properties in the CBD that between them provide about 10 per cent of the council’s rate revenue.

“We had to attempt to make sure that hitherto silent top 10 couldn’t be ignored,” Mr Hunt said.

“Likewise there was a focus on upgrading the Hay and Murray Street Malls and Forrest Place.

“While projects like the Malls upgrade take a lot of time, it is important to do them.”

Mr Hunt said one of the early things the new council did was to bring in Sunday trading.

“It gave city retailers a point of difference with suburban shopping centres,” he said.

“But we also had to lift

the level of cleaning and maintenance in the city.

“When I first got this job it struck me that the city was tired and infrastructure was poor. I think we’ve come a long way.

“The foreshore transformation has been good, but I have to give a lot of credit to Lord Mayor Peter Nattrass for driving that.

“The Barrack Square development hasn’t reached the right critical mass in my opinion, but it is heading in the right direction. What we see is only stage one. It would be nice to see stages two and three come on rapidly.

“Council was a catalyst to some of the issues down there. I consider it a good example of inter-governmental relations.”

Mr Hunt said the council had fostered strong relationships with key groups around the CBD, such as the Property Council of Australia and the petroleum and energy sector.

“We’ve used our links with world energy cities and those links should bring important benefits in the long term,” he said.

Mr Hunt said when he became CEO he felt considerable work had to be done on the council’s administration.

“The procedures and processes in some places were archaic. Yet some of the urban planning work being done was at the forefront of world trends.

“That organisational restructure we put in place is now being used as a blueprint for other capital cities around the world. Assessments by groups such as the Australian Quality Council show we are now at the forefront of world trends.

“We are a knowledge organisation and are able to attract and retain quality staff.”

Mr Hunt said the council was also a leading events organiser

– something he feels it does not promote enough.

“We host events such as Rally Australia, Cirque de Soleil, the Anzac and Christmas parades and the Skyshow. Rally Australia injects about $22 million into WA’s economy,” he said.

“We now have other groups looking to stage events in the city.”

Mr Hunt said his biggest regret was that neither he, nor anyone else, had found a solution for Northbridge’s problems.

“When I first started as CEO, a Northbridge identity took me aside and told me I would not be able to fix up Northbridge. At the time I thought he’d be wrong.”

His other regrets include not seeing projects such as the Town Hall redevelopment and Barrack Square come to fruition during his time as CEO.

Mr Hunt said the leaders he admired included Wesfarmers managing director Michael Chaney, BankWest managing director Terry Budge and Challenge Bank chief Tony Howarth.

“They are well respected, they run large organisations that are well respected and contribute to the community,” he said.

Mr Hunt believes to be a leader in local government requires a willingness to take on the hard issues, even if parts of the community want you to ignore them.

“If you want to be a populist then this is not the job for you,” he said.

“You have to know the systems and legislation and be a good negotiator.

“People’s expectations often far outweigh what councils are financially capable of providing.

“You also have to have an eye for commercial viability while working within council’s policy framework.

“Many people who work in local government often make a good transition into the commercial world, but few have made the transition from private enterprise to local government and stayed.

“You need to know your business and understand your community.

“Local government is much more exposed to the community than other levels of government. We impact on people’s day-to-day lives because of the services we provide such as childcare, rubbish collection and roads.”

Mr Hunt said being the CEO of a capital city council brought its own problems.

“One of the frustrating things about being the CEO of the CBD’s council is the amount of attention it draws.

“It is, in a sense, a fishbowl, because everyone is interested in what happens in the capital city.”

Mr Hunt’s role with the council has also helped foster another love – motor racing and cars. He is the proud owner of a 1968 Mustang.

Because of council’s involvement he was given a seat on the Rally Australia board.

“I’ve always loved cars and my involvement with Rally Australia heightened my interest in motor racing,” Mr Hunt said.

“I had hoped to get the V8 Supercar race to the city. Maybe that will still happen further down the track.”

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