18 March 2024

Kiama CEO steers council through troubled times towards a 'huge transformation'

| Jen White
Start the conversation
Smiling woman sitting at a desk.

Kiama Council CEO Jane Stroud is keen for council to again focus on core services, as well as turn its attention to the future. Photo: Jen White.

Jane Stroud is the first to admit that she was not expecting her role as Kiama Council’s CEO to be quite as challenging as it has been.

“But that’s every opportunity, isn’t it? You never really quite know the hand that you get,” she tells Region Illawarra.

Since she started two and a half years ago, Jane has steered the council ship through some wild storms, and she knows there are still clouds on the horizon.

She’s aware some regard her as “the people’s enemy”, but says that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I genuinely really care about the community and I care about the council, otherwise I would have never committed and stayed because it is a hard slog.”

At the centre of the storm is the long-running saga of council’s aged care service Blue Haven Bonaira. Despite councillors agreeing in October 2022 to sell it in a bid to recoup the millions it cost – and avoid the possibility of an administrator being appointed to sort out the beleaguered council – the debate has continued into this year.

READ ALSO Future election of Kiama’s mayor in the hands of residents

In November 2022, the NSW Government issued council with a Performance Improvement Order (PIO), due to what it saw as council’s failure to meet legislative responsibilities in relation to its financial management. It outlined a number of actions which council was required to fulfil to improve its performance.

In January this year, the government acknowledged that council had taken “significant steps” to address the matters raised in the PIO. It has been altered to recognise the improvement but remains in force.

Jane is hopeful her negotiations with the preferred tenderer for Blue Haven Bonaira will be resolved by the end of the month and returned to councillors for a final sign-off.

Once that happens, Jane is keen for council to again focus on core services, as well as turn its attention to the future.

“Aged care is something that council has had a historical involvement in for over 40 years so a return to core services and local government will be a remarkable transition for this council and a huge transformation,” she says.

“A lot of councils out there experience financial stress just like us but we have the benefit of two years’ worth of work, our own self-discovered issues and self-disclosed and self-managed issues.

“We have a really clear roadmap in the PIO as to how we get out and what we need to focus on. It’s seldom in a business where you get a moment where you’re told to take stock and to change and we have been told and we need to get on with it.”

Jane grew up in central western Queensland – “basically the middle of nowhere” – and has worked in local government since her first job with a council in Caloundra.

“I spent some time on the front desk on DAs (development applications) then got into strategic planning – I really loved that and found my groove.”

The decision to move to Kiama to take on the CEO role was not difficult.

“I went to the interview at the Pavilion and I sat there and could see all the school kids out on Coronation Park playing beside the beach and I thought, wow, that’s amazing, why wouldn’t you want to live here?

“The environment is second to none, it’s magnificent. And I like that it’s close enough to Sydney that you can go there if you want, but it’s also very quiet and I love that.”

Artist's impression of proposed building.

An artist’s impression of the mixed-use development proposed for Akuna Street. Photo: Kiama Council.

With a slew of developments on the horizon for Kiama, the next big conversation Jane wants council to have with residents centres around growth and development. Council will also be asking residents to provide feedback on its community engagement strategies.

“I’m keen to see us do things quite differently this time around, taking the conversation to where people go rather than expecting them to make time and come in and talk to us,” she says.

“I realise it’s challenging for the community to think about what feels like quite sudden and quite rapid growth and how you protect what’s special and unique about Kiama.

“We are expecting to see movement at Bombo Quarry after many many years, and I know that’s hard for the community to hear. We’re obviously seeing Springside Hill, we’ve got Akuna Street and there’s South Kiama.

“I think now more than ever we’re not going to get the chance just to say no – no won’t really be a viable option and I’m not sure that that’s a responsible option.

“It’s a once in a lifetime legacy opportunity, really, for this community to be involved in a mature conversation around what’s appropriate growth here.”

READ ALSO Solar-powered signage trial could signal new approaches to rural level railway crossing safety

Jane says housing developments are about much more than just building homes, “it’s about building places that become communities”.

“Beyond the basics, it’s also about data connectivity and road infrastructure. Anywhere on the South Coast, once Macquarie Pass or Jamberoo Mountain Road go down, it’s almost impossible to get from east to west. We can’t possibly just continue adding to that dynamic without some really serious solutions.

“Then to make a community you need schools and then they’ll grow up and get a job so you need employment [opportunities].”

Jane is heading to Canada in June after being awarded a prestigious international scholarship to attend the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators Conference.

“I really wanted to go there because it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I’m particularly interested in the conversation that their community is having about going up or growing out, understanding that growing out too far for them isn’t really an option because of the protection role that they play with their environment.”

When Jane gets time away from the office, she relaxes by taking her kids to the beach or working in her garden.

“It sounds really boring, but I love my vegetable patch.”

For more details on the developments before council, or to find out how to have your say on council’s community engagement plans, click here.

Original Article published by Jen White on Region Illawarra.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.