Ben Taylor seeking third term
WHEN City of Ballarat mayor Cr Ben Taylor took on the top job in November last year, few could have predicted the challenges his leadership would be tasked with.
A global pandemic that’s shutdown many elements of the local economy, and then a highly critical State Ombudsman’s report into senior management, seem to have sucked the air out of day-to-day issues facing council.
Yet that’s one of the key reasons Cr Taylor said he’s running for a third term in South Ward. He has more to do.
“This feels like unfinished business in relation to where we’re at as a council,” he said. “COVID’s hit has pretty well put a grind on some things and made it really difficult to set up the city.
“There’s a whole lot of strategic work that hasn’t been finalised that needs to be finalised. The growth of the city needs to be put as that number one focus.
“The decisions that are going to get made in the next two years will set the agenda for the next 10 to 20 years.”
The State Ombudsman’s report came down about halfway through Cr Taylor’s first term as mayor.
While hindsight is 20/20, he said he was confident council’s response to the report was appropriate.
“In looking back I think that we did everything methodically, everything right,” Cr Taylor said. “There was a lot of challenges and councillors will say that is was difficult through that time.
“It was challenging but I wouldn’t look back and say I’d change anything in relation to that.”
However, what Cr Taylor acknowledges what he could have done differently was be more aware of the factors that led to the damaging investigation that ultimately found the then CEO, along with a director, had among other things engaged in questionable hiring practices.
“I hope that all councillors have learned a lesson through it,” he said.
“There’s still a very difficult line between what’s operational and what’s strategic. The CEO is the only person the council has to employ or fire or follow, but I think definitely, there could have been more checks and balances put it.
“As an individual I probably didn’t push hard enough on some of the things I was trying to achieve with the CEO, or at least on getting information.”
Cr Taylor’s rise to mayor was, in some ways, reasonably unconventional. With the backing of a fellow Liberal Party member, two Labor Party members and a Green, he unseated another Liberal – former mayor Cr Samantha McIntosh.
He said he took part in the change to help refocus council’s attention.
“For me it was about as a city we were ready leading into an election but also working with key stakeholders, whether it’s government or the community,” Cr Taylor said.
“It was really making sure as a city we were back on track on projects and strategy that was needed.
“It was one of those things that in politics or on council, the cards just fell my way.”
Should Cr Taylor be re-elected, he said he’d be keen on returning to the mayoral robes, however he also said he’s not banking on the same level of support from the pan-political coalition of the willing that elevated him to the big chair the first time around.
“Who knows what will happen next term,” he said. “Who knows what that mix is going to be and who knows what positions are going to be available for me or others.
“First and foremost for me is getting re-elected, focusing on that and putting the case forward that I’ve had four years, not just as mayor but as a councillor representing the community.”
Being mayor has brought a bigger picture focus to Cr Taylor’s view of issues facing Ballarat and South Ward.
At both the local and citywide level, growth and planning is something he sees as an ongoing challenge for the municipality.
“Growth is first and foremost. That means money will start to come into the city and we have the attraction of developers,” he said. “People are going to start turning stuff into roads and parks and houses where people want to move to Ballarat.
“Post COVID it’s really important we set the city up as an attraction to other areas of the state to not only live but invest.
“We don’t want to be like Melton, Melton is just house after house. The biggest challenge is making sure there’s community and heart.”