Hein Basson reflects on 14 years as head of Glen Innes Severn Council

Hein Basson has been general manager of the Glen Innes Severn council almost since the town and regional councils amalgamated 15 years ago.
Hein Basson has been general manager of the Glen Innes Severn council almost since the town and regional councils amalgamated 15 years ago.

Glen Innes' council general manager says he will always consider the town his true home.

Hein Basson, Glen Innes Severn council's general manager of 14 years, is set to stand down from the job next month, with his last day on June 2. In a lengthy interview the council mandarin, who is also a champion powerlifter with a personal best of 205 kilos deadlift, said he was "at peace" with the move.

Basson has faced criticism over the years; he laughed that the controversial upgrade to Grey street was called "Basson's blunder" "Price's piazza" (councilor Col Price was mayor at the time). But he said he had never endured as much or as personal abuse as in the last 12 months.

"It was more intense," he said.

"More intensified."

Was he worn down over time?

"It'll be fair to say that continuous constant unwarranted criticism had got an effect over a period of time.

"But I don't want to be negative at all; there's a time to come, there's a time to go. It's time for me to go - that's it.

"It's time for me to go."

Before the interview Mr Basson handed the Examiner a six-page list of achievements, including a brief summation of his "sporting pursuits".

The quiet South African's mild manner hides the fact that Mr Basson is probably one of the strongest men of his age in the country, winning a gold and two silver medals at the inaugural IPF world classic (raw) powerlifting championships in 2014 in South Africa.

When the Examiner expressed surprise, Mr Basson laughed "you haven't seen me with my shirt off".

He no longer competes but has taken up cycling (again).

Glen Innes Severn Council has almost never had another general manager. When Hein took over the administrative helm, he said, the council was in financial trouble, had a divided staff and was over-managed by too many staff.

He entered a council that was once the poster child for amalgamation and top of the commission's hit list - it was at one point virtually a certainty, Hein insisted, most likely with Tenterfield but potentially either Inverell or Armidale - and which inherited close to $7 million in debt from a council that borrowed to pay operating costs.

"I think it'll be fair to say I've merged the (shire and town councils) really; one salary system, one rating system; one set of HR policies, a register applicable to all staff," he said.

Glen Innes Severn Council buildings.

Glen Innes Severn Council buildings.

"When I got here in August of 2005 it was roughly a year after the amalgamation in September 2004 but with all due respect not much had been done to put the two councils together.

"I had to pursue that and merge it properly."

He said his attitude was to aim to go "back to basics", improving the sewerage system from a crude, inefficient and expensive system so environmentally unsustainable the council had to pay constant fines to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The next step was to consolidate expenditure, and reduce unnecessary staffing

"The council was, with all due respect, it was a basket case," said Mr Basson.

"We were on the watchlist of the then department of local government, received letters that you know you really need to get your act together

"We were not able to budget for operating surpluses and so forth. That was a long and arduous process.

"We inherited close to $7 million from the former municipal council in debt, where they have taken up loans to pay operating (costs) - salaries and wages. They could show nothing for it."

The next step was the controversial Grey street upgrade, which Mr Basson said was largely motivated by improving water drainage in a street that flooded.

"I copped a lot of personal abuse along the way - an extraordinary amount."

Over the years, he said, he's aimed to get the basics right: sewerage, water, economic development, roads, waste management, while fiercely maintaining independence through financial prudence.

Glen Innes is today the only town in the New England not forced beyond level 1 water restrictions; the council years ago established an off-stream water storage system called the Eerindii Ponds, which have several years of water stored.

"The finances have been sorted, we've been declared fit for the future, a viable, sustainable council into the future and I think that is probably one of my proudest achievements that I'm leaving this council in a good financial position."

He also pointed to increased road budgets, which have near doubled since 2014-15 to an annual spend of $1.8 million.

On a personal level, Basson said he was at peace with the decision to leave a community in which he still retains a house he owns. He said it was the healthiest decision available for him.

"I'm astonished by the number of people who are approaching me and the outpouring of emotion, it is quite humbling really for one to understand and realise the effect that a particular individual can have, I found that really humbling," he said.

"I can leave with my head being held high, with my dignity intact and know that I have made a contribution. Not I, but as part of a team, in concert with very competent and very committed senior management team and other staff. This council has got fantastic staff, that is the one thing that I feel - can I use the word baddest? - the worst about.

"That is really something that I feel very emotional about really. But I also know that they are hardworking. If they do their jobs they'll be right."

Asked for advice for the future, he said the new general manager and council should more or less stay the course.

Hein Basson (left) with director of development, regulatory and sustainability services Graham Price who will act as general manager until a replacement can be chosen. With Barnaby Joyce they inspect the location of the new netball facility.

Hein Basson (left) with director of development, regulatory and sustainability services Graham Price who will act as general manager until a replacement can be chosen. With Barnaby Joyce they inspect the location of the new netball facility.

"I think an important thing is to have stability within the council, because if you don't have stability within the council, and I'm talking about your elected body as well as your staffing component, that work well together with each other, people get itchy, whether it's developers, whether it's people wanting to move down there, open up a business, whatever the case may be.

"If things are stable and you get stable and consistent messages coming out then it helps.

"Change is good as long as you think it through, you don't only act impulsively you think it through, you plan it through."

Mr Basson's last day will be June 2.