At the age of 80, Ken Clarke FCPA has plunged in to be Wangaratta’s mayor for a second time.
At this particular moment Ken Clarke FCPA is contemplating swimming pools, but not in a wistful, last-dip-of-the-summer kind of way; he’s preoccupied with pools on a much bigger scale. Namely, should the city of Wangaratta in north-east Victoria, 250km from Melbourne, sink A$5 million of its precious funds into a spanking new aquatic centre, when the existing pool built by the community in the 1950s could be refurbished for about half that amount.
Clarke made headlines in November when he was appointed Wangaratta mayor at the age of 80 – a time when many retirees would be thinking of kicking back and simply enjoying the good life.
He declares that age won’t hamper his efforts to reinvigorate the local region. “While my body might be a bit aged, my brain is still functioning all systems go,” he says.
The mayor’s schedule might leave some 40-somethings gasping for air. The morning Clarke spoke to INTHEBLACK, he had three interviews and was then heading to a midday council meeting, to be followed by a council forum scheduled to last until 7pm. “It’s all work, work, work,” he says.
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It’s Clarke’s second time as mayor. Last time he assumed office was in 1985. Many now living in Wangaratta were barely born at the time, let alone of voting age, yet his recent election could be described as a landslide.
“We have proportional voting in the city and to get elected I needed 1971 votes. I received 1950 first preference votes, so I was almost elected without needing any preferences,” Clarke says. He admits he was “surprised” by the win, and suggests he was helped by name recognition from his regular business and finance column in the local paper.
The mayoralty is an opportunity for Clarke to restore locals’ faith in the council. The previous Rural City of Wangaratta Council was sacked by the Victorian Government because of rampant bullying and intimidating behaviour towards staff and councillors, and spending A$1.5 million of ratepayers’ funds on councillor dispute procedures. The local government has been run by administrators for the last two years.
“While my body might be a bit aged, my brain is still functioning all systems go.”
Clarke is the only one of the seven new councillors with any government experience – three hadn’t even attended a council meeting before assuming office. He will be drawing on his experience as mayor and his financial expertise honed as a local public practitioner to manage the A$65 million annual budget for the Wangaratta council, which spreads across 1000sq km, covering the city and eight other small townships.
A program of public works heads the agenda, says Clarke. The council has a budget of A$23 million for roads, footpaths and drainage systems – vital for an area prone to flooding. Wangaratta sits at the apex of two rivers that flow from the snowfields of Mount Hotham and Mount Buffalo.
“If we get a lot of rain, we’ve got to get our drainage right to make sure we cope with that,” he says.
Ken Clarke came to Wangaratta in 1975 to manage the local credit union. He thought he’d stay for three years, but quickly fell in love with the place. He has given back in spades, being on the board of a local disability service, doing pro bono work for sporting clubs, and becoming mayor, twice. In 2011, he received an Order of Australia medal for his service.
“It’s not about the individual. It’s a public service, no doubt about that,” he says.
Is refirement the new retirement