Augusta Margaret River Shire boss signs off after 10 years

After a decade of service in the role of chief executive officer at the Shire of Augusta Margaret River, Gary Evershed has officially closed the door on his final day in office. 

Farewelling the role and the team he has led for the past 10 years on Friday, Mr Evershed said he had mixed emotions about vacating the top job.

“It’s a transitional period, the plan once you’ve started to say ‘I’m going to retire’ takes a lot of planning and processes to break the news to staff, firstly, and then the council. It’s not something that’s done overnight, and it’s a daunting thought, after being so busy for so long.

“I’m ready to let go of this role – I think I’ve achieved what I set out to achieve and I feel like the job has been done,” he said. 

Listing the redevelopment of the library, the State Emergency Services facility, and the Shire office building as notable infrastructure projects during his tenure, Mr Evershed said a lot of work had gone into the establishment of long term use buildings and facilities.

“This building [Shire offices] for example, is a masterful project in terms of value for money for ratepayers.

“This building in terms of loan repayments, less the rates we are getting for Woolworths and the other property that we are renting, we are paying about $300,000 a year in repayments, which is 1.5c in the rate dollar to provide accommodation for our Shire operations for the next 30 years.

“Then you’ve got the HEART Cultural Precinct project here, which is going to come to fruition next year. All the monies have been sourced for it, mostly grant funding and external funding, so the vast majority of that will be externally funded.

“Over $1 million of asbestos removal and replacement will occur through that building project. We’ve broken the back of all the asbestos we have in the Shire and with the rec centre building in Augusta and a few other places we are now on top of that really big liability we had for the future.

“The cultural precinct will be an asset for the community and it will generate economic income, visitation and bringing events to the region.”

Mr Evershed said the “infrastructure backlog” within the region had been addressed as well as a strong cultural shift within the Shire itself.

“When I came here, there wasn’t many women in leadership positions and in strong staffing roles at the Shire, and now that has all been changed – we won a national award for women in leadership, and now it’s fantastic that Annie Riordan, one of our directors has now secured a CEO’s position in Harvey,” he said. 

“I think that proves the change in culture and the overall opportunities provided to women in this organisation.”

On the financial side, the ex-chief executive said the Shire looked to be in good shape.

“There is over $20 million in reserves in the bank, we’ve got a significant amount of money for the future of waste management in the Shire, and all our ratios are pretty good. About 90 cents in the dollar is coming from our own sources, so we are not dependent on grant funding. A lot of the big jobs have been done now, so the incoming person should be able to maintain those things that have been put in place and have a bit of a consolidation period.”

The recruitment process is currently underway to secure a new chief executive officer, with firm Lester Blades appointed to conduct the search. 

“Lester Blades probably appoint more CEOs in local government than anyone else in WA, they are very experienced and they will start the process, which will be advertised in the near future,” said Mr Evershed. 

“I expect a big field of applicants – probably 30 applicants, and I think that’s also down to the reputation of the Shire improving within the industry.

“When I started at the Shire, the reputation wasn’t as good, because of the past history and the fact that there had been Commissioners in, and a few bad decision had been made.

“If nothing else, I’ve given it stability, over ten years. If you look at the honour board outside CEOs rarely last longer than 3 or 4 years at the most so I’m pretty pleased that I’ve been able to remain for such a long time.”

In reflecting on the challenges of the past ten years, Mr Evershed noted a growing population and a number of events that had impacted heavily on the community and the Shire.

“We’ve had a growing population here and in local government there is always things coming up time to time that blindside you, but I’ve always said we are a learning organisation.

“We have made mistakes at certain times and we’ve moved to correct those, and to put better systems in place to improve.”

The 2011 Bushfires and this year’s tragedy in Osmington stood out as the most challenging moments of his recent career.

“The fires were something that happened very quickly, we were only in this building for two weeks and then all hell broke loose, with the controlled burn getting out of control and destroying 34 houses and over 100 properties.”

While the disaster affected thousands, Mr Evershed said there was a sense of togetherness that made him proud to be part the community. 

“That was a wonderful experience in terms of community resilience, cohesiveness and the mateship and the volunteerism of the community, all coming together to support each other and to make sure that all hands were on deck to deal with the catastrophe. 

“The Shire had a really important role in the recovery from that incident and we worked hard for a number of years to help the community return to a new sense of normality.

“That was a very inspirational and emotional time for us.

“I think that was the real making of the Shire at the time – it improved our relationship with the community and let us show that we are there to help.

“The Osmington tragedy was another moment where the Shire was able to take a leadership role and look at ways to not only help with the tragedy itself, but the underlying issues that need to be addressed within our community in the future.

“Of course then we also have a drying climate and the threat of bushfires, and the need to reduce fuel loads, and protect the community, and on the other hand, the environmental side where people don’t want to see vegetation removed.

“It may be a case of two worlds colliding in the future.”

Mr Evershed is currently en route to Coober Pedy, the Eyre Peninsula and the Flinders Ranges as part of a four wheel driving adventure, on which he and wife Nerolie embarked over the weekend. 

Further travels as well as an active lifestyle is planned, with ocean swimming, golf, mountain bike riding and local events all on the agenda. 

“I’ve got family in London, my grand kids live there so I will be going there next year. Apart from that, I’ll just be enjoying living in Margaret River.”