With the Maitland City Council election just over a week away, we wanted to get to know the candidates vying for the top job.
In this article, we asked the contenders running for Mayor of Maitland a few questions.
These included what inspired them to run for mayor; what is their vision for the Maitland local government area; what attributes or experience they have that will help them in the undertaking of this role and what are their views on Maitland's recent residential boom.
John Brown - The Greens
I decided to run for the position of mayor because I was angry and frustrated at the council's attitude to our environmental needs. This is 2021 and our council seems to be stuck in the 1970s.
Our environment is so important today and into the future for our children. I tried to establish a community garden in William Street, East Maitland. We had 50 people signed up ready to go but the council and councillors even refused to talk to me about it. It was the same with Landcare. Total silence from our councillors.
My vision is for a cleaner, greener Maitland with the key issue being sustainability. We have been warned about what the weather will be like in the future .... Longer, hotter and drier summers and this means we much start immediately on new, massive tree-planting schemes throughout the suburbs to reduce rising heat.
I have been involved in many community projects and a volunteer for others. These include the Red Cross, member of the Friends of Maitland Library (20 years), volunteer at the community kitchen where meals are cooked for those in need, and a volunteer for the farmers' markets where the aim is to sell local, fresh produce for our farmers.
I am a former Landcare member and recently formed another group in Bolwarra (see Facebook Bolwarra Landcare 2.0).
But our three projects for planting trees were rejected by the council - with no reason given. I don't call it a residential boom. I call it residential overdevelopment. Yes, people need somewhere to live, but there has been no thought put into new subdivisions.
Our farmland is quickly disappearing and there is little to no public consultation on new projects on residents' back doors. The developers move in, smash down every tree, dig up every blade of grass. If it rains, all the soil is washed down the drains and ends up in the river. To pile misery on misery for our local residents, these projects are pushed through so quickly that we end up with no infrastructure, no planning for the future.
The developer might get approval for 200 homes, then they go back to the council, get approval to reduce the block size so they can get 300 homes. What we end up with is traffic congestion and toxic fumes from the extra cars. It's time to turn our eyes to looking after our environment.
More trees, more green corridors, more open space, more parks and gardens for future generations.
Let's live with nature, not destroy it. My passion is to create more Landcare projects and community gardens. Other priorities include more designated cycleways and creating more jobs through recycling and renewable energy. We have to provide a sustainable future for our kids.
Ben Mitchell - Liberal Party
I was inspired to run for Maitland mayor by three people. The first was my mother and second my grandmother. I grew up in a small country town where it seemed everyone was involved in some sort of voluntary work.
My mum was everything from a hockey coach to P&C president and my grandmother was involved in CWA, her church guild and the local museum. I was taken along from a young age and contributing to your community was instilled in myself and my siblings.
Thirdly, was my good friend, mentor and former councillor the late Bob Geoghegan. Bob and I didn't agree on everything, but he could disagree respectfully and he served the city for 17 years. He was passionate about the people who lived here. He demonstrated to me the worth of helping people with their everyday problems and the value that fixing them had to their lives.
My vision for Maitland is a place where young people feel they can not only stay here, but have opportunities here. To that end, council must do better in putting in road infrastructure before new housing subdivisions, not trying to retrofit it later when we have already created the traffic problems. Council must also be financially sustainable without constant rate hikes. Seven years of special rate variations is enough.
I was elected as Maitland's youngest ever councillor at the age of 25, I was unanimously elected as deputy mayor by the council at 28. I bring a perspective to council probably not seen before.
Maitland's residential boom is a double-edged sword. On one hand we don't want to be building on every piece of raised ground in the city, on the other we need to increase housing supply to cater not only for the next generation to be able to stay here, but for the (on average) seven people moving to Maitland every day.
It's about getting the balance right, making sure proposals are the right fit to the area they are proposed for and ensuring the facilities and infrastructure are in place in a timely manner. What's right for Lochinvar or Bolwarra won't always be right for Morpeth or Thornton.
Almost 10 years ago I was one of those young people who came here. Maitland has given me incredible opportunities I never would have dreamed of. I want to see my, and the next generations have those same opportunities, or better into the future.
Loretta Baker - Labor Party
I've been a nurse since I was 18 years old. I've been a mental health nurse, midwife, paediatric nurse, and I ran the local school vaccination program for more than 15 years. But my real passion has always been working as a community nurse, especially with local residents and families who live on the margins.
Throughout my nursing career, I've learned that good health outcomes come from strong, vibrant, cohesive communities. That's why I got involved in local council: to build a stronger community, and to get things done.
I was elected as Maitland's first female mayor in 2017, and I'm proud of what we've achieved over the last four years. We've invested a record $71 million fixing local roads. Of course, there's more to do, but our track record is strong.
We've invested a record $17 million building and upgrading local sportsgrounds, parks and playgrounds, including the Maitland Regional Athletics Centre - a world class facility right in the heart of Maitland.
In the last four years, we've built more footpaths and cycle ways than any other council in Maitland's history.
We've opened new community centres, we're expanding our library services, and we're supporting local community groups and local residents with significant funding and sponsorships every year.
Under my leadership, Maitland City Council has been getting things done.
On top of our record investments in local roads, sportsgrounds and footpaths, we're also focusing on creating a more sustainable city. We've planted 15,000 native trees and plants across Maitland in the past four years alone. We're changing the bin collection system in 2024 to better suit the needs of our community and to reduce landfill by 40 per cent.
Much of the waste that currently goes in your red bin will, instead, go in your green bin, which will be collected weekly. Importantly, anyone who needs a weekly red bin collection will still get it for free. My vision for Maitland is to bring people together, not push people apart. I want everyone to feel welcomed and valued.
As Maitland keeps growing, it's so important that we protect our heritage character and support our local community groups and cultural institutions. These are the things that make Maitland great.
I'm proud of what we've achieved over the past four years, but the job's not over. There's still more to do. That's why I'm asking for the support of our community, so we can make Maitland even better, together.
Philip Penfold - Independent
I want to make a difference for the people of Maitland and return council to being beholden to the wishes of the people. My vision for Maitland is an increasingly liveable city with improved roads, traffic, and increased recreation and leisure opportunities. I want to see a Maitland with a greater focus on improved recreation and sporting infrastructure, and sound financial management.
I am born and bred in Maitland. I have 13 years council experience and am a former deputy mayor, a former bank manager, I hold a Diploma of Financial Services and am a justice of the peace.
For many years Maitland has been a popular location for people to raise a family and has grown at a fast pace. It is vital that council provide infrastructure as fast as possible to alleviate the growing pains that come from this new population, ensuring that the impact on existing residents is minimised.
Sean Saffari - Independent
Maitland is one of the fastest growing LGAs in NSW. The city is alive with new energy, new families and new businesses. Currently, we have a city government that is not keeping up with the city and failing the ratepayers on many levels. I am running because I have the experience and passion to build a high-performing city government. I have published a five-point plan of policy initiatives to make Maitland a good home for families with a strong economy and to encourage investment and growth to make Maitland a progressive town. Details of these plans are published on my Facebook page here (facebook.com/people/Sean-Saffari-Independent-for-Maitland- Mayor/100072105698027) and on my website here (https://maitlandmayor.com)
My resume is available on my website (www.maitlandmayor.com) About page.
I have high level skills in business management and strategy, marketing and team development.
I hold a Bachelor Science in Aviation Management and Business Administration.
I have military experience, honing my organisational capabilities and working in high pressure environment with work ethics where 85 hours of work is a normal week.
I never forget that the mayor is a public servant entrusted by the public to allocate resources to benefit the community at large.
Maitland is one of the fastest growing regional cities in NSW and the current traffic congestion and inadequate infrastructure is indicative of growth outpacing urban planning.
The mayor plays a key role in approving plans and strategies for Maitland.
In collaboration with councillors and the council, I will address our pressing issues including transportation and new public schools for our growing number of children. We need a fresh, new dynamic leader who can harness our momentum.
I will bring high level management skills vital for a mayor because executive acumen is an essential skill for turning civic vision into civic reality. Notwithstanding the negative consequences of the preferential voting system and the necessary horse trading for preferences, I understand that a majority-elected mayor reflects majority of votes and therefore the city.
Michael Cooper - Independent
Having been a community leader in Maitland for over 24 years in a non-government capacity, I feel it's time to step up and utilise my skills for the greater good and for the benefit of the whole city in which I live. I love working with teams of people as someone who can get the best out of the people around me; I think the role of the mayor is someone who needs to do this strategically across the political divide both with councillors, council staff and the public.
My vision is simple: we need to flourish. We need to want to be here, raise our kids here, shop here and make our home great. We should be proud to call ourselves Maitland people and I want to work to that end, to build out identity and ensure our city is thriving without losing some of the country feel and rural landscapes we all enjoy.
I have been a school teacher for 21 years in an executive capacity the whole time. I lead teams for major projects and need to carefully oversee significant budgets which I am highly accountable for. I educate and lead, but also manage a venue and an external training organisation. I am accustomed to leading large groups of people with success, whilst making everyone feel a sense of value and respect.
Population growth is good for economy and I support steady slow growth but not at the expense of over-development or rushed planning that doesn't properly take into consideration the effects of the existing community. We must stay a regional city and not turn into a grid-locked metropolis.
Brian Burke - Independent
In the end, the reasoning behind my decision to run in the upcoming council election was twofold.
Firstly, the last couple of years, with this COVID thing, have been like nothing we have ever experienced before, with one of the greatest impacts being on what were our already struggling local businesses in the CBD. I have always been about measures aimed at generating a vibrant and thriving CBD - a city of our size and energy deserves it - and if ever there was a time to get serious about it, now is certainly it. My second reason for contesting came with the avalanche of election flyers suddenly coming through my letterbox. Such were the goodies (carrots) being promised I figured that Ho Ho (Santa) must be leaving the North Pole three weeks early.
Outrageous promises. Are these people serious? Do they understand scheduling, timeframes, budgets? We have a lot to accomplish for our town and we need to discuss how to best go about doing it, in the real world. Basically, I don't rate the competition. We need somebody unaffiliated, with ideas and experience; with their feet on the ground (I work in the CBD everyday) and who understands the processes.
I believe I can be that person. It's an interesting time for Maitland. With so many big-city businesses now realising that their workers can be equally productive working from home, regional areas are receiving an influx of new residents. In short, people are opting out of Sydney and moving to Maitland for what they hope will be a better quality of life. Maitland is also situated only 25 minutes from the number one tourist destination in NSW (the vineyards).
We don't have a quality caravan park; we have no performing arts centre; no entertainment centre. We have no museum, and we have no large conference facility.
We actually don't have anywhere where you can host the likes of 500-1000 people. I believe this to be unacceptable in a city of our size and remedying these would be a large part of my focus. I do stress, though, that none of this can happen overnight.
The planning and need for the new council administration building (opening next September) was identified 20 years ago and approval given. I remember. I was one of the councillors giving approval. As I said, I understand the processes.