As he pulls up stumps on a three-decade career in local government, Moyne Shire Council chief executive Bill Millard leaves a reputation as a quiet achiever.
He told The Standard letting other people do the talking has been one of his secrets as a manager.
"I think listening has been really important. I never assume I've got answers, so I've always tried to first seek to understand the other person's position," he said.
It's a mantra he has tried to instil during his four years as chief executive, creating a culture of "fairness, accountability and responsiveness" in the council.
"To me the culture comes through when things are abnormal; you get a fire, or a flood, or a pandemic... it comes through when you're under real pressure," he said.
One of his proudest achievements was the way council had navigated the past two COVID-19-ravaged years.
"Moyne Shire set up its emergency management group in January 2020 when there were just early whispers about a worrying virus. It has now has met 192 times, constantly making decisions about access, vaccination status, government health directions, the safety of older people," Mr Millard said.
He said the community had been incredibly resilient, but council had played a key role.
"The work we've done in economic development through COVID, the support for business, it has been so rewarding. Particularly through Daniel Meade's two years as mayor. His interests and my interests aligned and I think our approach really worked," Mr Millard said.
He said he felt he was leaving Moyne Shire in good shape, and a council organisation that could handle significant change at the top after second-in-command Kevin Leddin left late last year.
"From my point of view good organisations don't revolve around individuals, they revolve around systems, processes and culture. You miss people like Kevin because they're unique and fun to work with. The characters change but the script is the same," he said.
He conceded seeing his close friend leave had played a role in his own decision to depart, but it was also a question of how long he wanted to continue at the top.
"I probably started to think about it through January. I was coming to the end of a four-year contract and I thought if I didn't really want another four year contract I should call it. I wouldn't want to commit and then a year down the track change my mind," he said.
Mr Millard had been a late bloomer as a public servant. Coming from a farming family in Heywood he had studied Arts at La Trobe University and wasn't sure where that would take him.
"But then my dad died about the same time I finished uni, so my brother and I went home on the farm," he said.
His first foray into local government was pure chance.
"I think it was the year Plugga won the Brownlow, so 1987. I got a call from Phillip Shanahan who was the CEO at the City of Portland," Mr Millard said.
"He said 'I've got a couple of weeks' work, it's the middle of winter so you can't be doing much on the farm, you've got a degree haven't you'?
"We had three kids by then. We were farming but you needed to work off farm to make it work basically. So I ended up working for the City of Portland and I've fallen upstairs since really."
In the early 2000s he and his wife Denise "took a punt" and sold their farm, moving to Warrnambool, where Mr Millard took a job as HR manager at Warrnambool City Council.
"I was in HR for three or four years and then became director of economic development."
He said both strands had been vital as a chief executive, knowing how to manage people, but also how to manage an organisation.
"I also did an MBA with a focus on strategic HR. That was all about how you get organisations to operate effectively, which taught me a lot about what makes good organisations tick."
He said he thought the council organisation was ticking along nicely, although it wasn't without its challenges.
"The most challenging issue has been the impact of renewable energy on Moyne. Wind farms dominate."
He said Moyne was "carrying the can for the state" when it came to wind farms.
"We've got nearly 400 turbines and another 400 in planning or approval processes at the moment, and we're more a recipient of that, than a participant."
Mr Millard said the natural windiness and established power infrastructure in Moyne meant there were many more turbines on the horizon, but the challenge was also an opportunity.
"Imagine if every Moyne ratepayer had a 10 per cent discount on their power bill because we were hosting such a substantial part of the states renewable energy. That would change the conversation," he said.
Likewise, the challenge presented by the lack of housing in the shire - which has reached a critical point in many towns - also present future upsides.
"Moyne's made up of 16 small towns - your Hawkesdales or Peterboroughs - and I think those towns have a different future than they did a few years ago," Mr Millard said.
He said when he took the job one of his main concerns was how council could help resurrect many of those small towns, but post-COVID-19 many of those worries had evaporated.
"Look at Koroit with Daly's or Woolsthorpe with Colin McKenna's pub, they show how you can renew in those small towns and create a different sort of lifestyle. I think there are people who actively see a future for those towns now. People are looking to balance their lifestyles and see those kinds of places as part of that," he said.
Mr Millard said Moyne had taken the lead in the south-west Key Worker Housing program, with seven councils including Warrnambool and Corangamite working to address the housing shortage that was making it difficult to bring essential workers into the region.
"We've understood the depth of the problem since 2019. There's a roughly 1 per cent vacancy rate across the region. Market equilibrium is around 3 or 4 per cent," he said.
"What each council is doing is looking at a particular project or site and then getting engineering and development advice for those sites."
He said the scheme was "progressing well" and was guaranteed federal and state funding once the various councils had finalised their plans. "I don't have have any doubt we'll be supported regionally once we finish this piece of work and it should be finished in June."
He will be long gone by then, but will follow from afar.
"For now it's time for a break and a bit of a detox," he said.
Reporter covering politics, environment and health
Reporter covering politics, environment and health
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