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Melbourne CEO reflects on seven years at the top

14 Dec 2014

Melbourne CEO reflects on seven years at the top Image

After seven years in the top job, the city’s top bureaucrat retired on December 3 frustrated that the council has not able to do more to build community in Southbank.

By Shane Scanlan

Dr Kathy Alexander told Southbank Local News that the suburb would have been on the right track had the State Government also shared the city’s commitment to the Southbank Structure Plan.

“I don’t think it’s coming out our way,” she said.  “Our position on Southbank in terms of the structure plan is pretty clear.  I think if we implemented that, we’d have a great community down there.”

“It would not only be a great community with high amenity for the people living in Southbank, but it would also complement the rest of the capital city zone.”

“I think if we could get commitment and agreement, the problems of Southbank would be solved.”

Dr Alexander acknowledged the apparent disconnect between the council and the Southbank community.  But, she said, the council was committed to the suburb.

“Southbank is on council’s radar.  The relationships are a little bit difficult, but we’ll get there,” she said.

“I do agree that the community infrastructure and amenity aren’t that fantastic but there are plans for Southbank. We’ve been able to go back in and buy the school and the whole Boyd thing has become a bit of a focus.”

“We’ve had all kinds of ideas about how we could maybe put parks under some of the freeways and stimulate some activation in ugly places and turn them into beautiful places. That requires some agreement with the State Government so we haven’t been able to progress that,” Dr Alexander said.

“We’ve got the plan for City Rd and there’s absolutely no doubt that that’s a priority.  It will be made beautiful and useable.”

“The other thing we’ve been centrally involved in, in partnership with the state, is the arts precinct and I reckon that’s a game changer,” she said.  “The trouble is there are a lot of parties involved and our role is a facilitative role.  We want to really get moving on it but, once again, it’s getting a whole lot of parties together.”

Dr Alexander said her time at the helm had been simplified because of the council’s consistent adherence to the “Future Melbourne” plan and principles which were first suggested by the John So council in 2008.

“I’ve had a pretty clear path to follow in those seven years,” she said.  “For the past six years the council has been working on a very solid set of directions around those major (Future Melbourne) community goals.”

So, how does she rate her performance?

“I don’t like to appraise my own performance, but the fact that I keep getting my contract signed is a good sign,” she said.

“I can certainly see huge progress being made in the directions that council wanted.”

“I’ve always been able to report that the plan’s been implemented and always ahead of budget and, if you look at the international recognition that the City of Melbourne has had for the projects that it has run and the programs that it implements and the directions that it has been taking, there’s no doubt that our excellence in those endeavours has been recognised.”

Dr Alexander said her task as CEO had also been made easier by the alignment and commitment of her staff.

“It’s a great organisation.  The organisation itself is fundamentally committed to the City of Melbourne,” she said.  “We’ve done culture surveys amongst the staff and the thing that gets them up in the morning to come to work is the city.”

“Making Melbourne a bold, inspirational city is on everyone’s mind.”

And, while Dr Alexander will miss the role, she won’t miss the 12-hour days and the burden of reading all the council’s papers every Sunday.  She also says her retirement is a good opportunity for the organisation to introduce new energy and new thinking.

She said a health scare for her daughter and grandson last year was a contributing factor to her decision to retire.

“She had a very difficult pregnancy and it was touch and go for both herself and the baby,” she said.  “Trying to ‘fit in’ my family, rather than focus on them, was an interesting time in my life.”

“And also I’m 60 and things start to happen after 60 and I’m fit and healthy.  Do I want to wait until I’m 70 or 65 when maybe I’m not so healthy?”

Dr Alexander said she would pursue some board positions where she would be able to continue to contribute to organisations at a strategic level rather than at the operational level.

“I’ve had quite a lot of calls. I’m quite comfortable about my future,” she said.

“I don’t think I’ll be idle.  It’s not like I’m going home to be with my family and work in the garden. I’ll still be in the workforce, but I won’t be doing 12-hour days.”


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