Our View (11-9-2018): Harder resigns – how did we get here?

POLARISING would be the best word to describe Copper Coast Council CEO Peter Harder’s seven-year tenure.

“Did you hear the good news? Peter Harder resigned.” A couple of people told me that at different stages on Saturday. Others were not so happy. One told me Mr Harder’s resignation was a shame. Another described it as devastating. Perhaps polarising is an understatement.

No matter your views on the subject, Mr Harder has done a lot in his time as CEO.

His biggest achievements are likely the projects previous administrations had failed to get off the ground – like the community wastewater management scheme for Moonta and surrounds, and the Copper Coast Sport and Leisure Centre redevelopment – or those which had run into trouble until Mr Harder’s intervention – like the Wallaroo town centre redevelopment. Hopefully the Kadina CBD redevelopment is similarly successful. As someone with a young family I am thankful for Mr Harder’s involvement in the leisure centre, Splash Town, the indoor play cafe, the cycling/walking trail between Kadina and Wallaroo, and more. Perhaps the best vote of confidence in the CEO’s ability came from most of the council’s elected members. That includes successful businesspeople who would surely not have let him implement such projects if they thought he was putting the community in a dire financial position.

The CEO had a grand vision for the area, and as he pursued that vision he undoubtedly rubbed certain people the wrong way. Some were unhappy with how he went about implementing plans, policies and council rules. Some wondered why millions were being thrown at major projects when the roads past their houses still hadn’t been bituminised. Some worried about the council taking on debt. Perhaps above all else many felt they had no hope of getting anywhere with their concerns, because most councillors supported Mr Harder’s vision for the area. The rainbow flag incident showed councillors would bend to the CEO’s wishes when push came to shove.

For many people, gripes turned into grudges and then into vendettas. Some time ago I spoke with a person who had been engaged in ongoing disagreements with council. He informed me many of the people who had been similarly unhappy planned to group together. “What will the aim of the group be?” I asked. The reply: “To get rid of Harder.”

Soon after the Copper Coast Residents and Ratepayers Association was formed. The individuals who felt their voices were not being heard were suddenly amplified. This group has every right to voice its views about council. Robust discussion and varying opinions are vital for an engaged community.

And I doubt all members explicitly aimed to remove Mr Harder as the CEO, although I’m sure several key members rejoiced when he resigned.

Undoubtedly, some of these people have been in the front of Mr Harder’s mind when he says he has been bullied. There is a big difference between disagreeing with somebody and making hateful comments toward them and their family, and I’d sincerely hope even Mr Harder’s most vocal opponents would agree that is not on. It must be mentioned some ratepayers have claimed, in response to Mr Harder’s allegations, the CEO bullied them.

Mr Harder had supporters but they weren’t as vocal as his opponents. Why would they be? People who are happy have no cause to make noise the way people who are upset do. The negative voices won out. The people who wanted Mr Harder gone got their wish.

Elections are just around the corner. Copper Coast Council will have a new CEO, a new mayor and several new elected members. Nobody knows what the next council’s focus will be, or what it will achieve. The only certainty is whoever is in charge next will find it impossible to please all the people all the time. Let’s give them a chance anyway.

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