Councillor steps into new chapter
COUNCILLOR Paul Bell has decided to step back from local government after 35 years of representing the Central Highlands region.
Cr Bell was first elected in 1985 and has taken on many roles, including councillor, mayor and president of the Australian Local Government Association, among others.
“Thirty-five years almost becomes a lifestyle – it’s a big chunk of anyone’s life,” he said.
“It’s something that’s been almost automatic for me now, just being part of local government, the local community and all those things that it involves.”
Cr Bell said he first ran for local government because he was “a bit cranky” about money and resources that were being put towards sport and recreational activities.
“It was a bit of a shock in some ways,” he said.
“When you get in there, suddenly you have to know about finance, how the sewerage system operates, plant and equipment and other processes.
“A real first driver for me was that you had to move pretty quick on your feet.”
When looking back on his time in office, he said a real eye-opener was being elected mayor and realising that people expected him to know everything.
“People think you have knowledge about everything – they ask you when it’s going to rain. Someone once brought in a wasp in a bottle and asked me what kind of a wasp it was,” Cr Bell said.
“They think you know everything about everything.”
As part of a team of councillors, Cr Bell worked to build the Emerald library complex, the park and community assets along the Nogoa River which is now the Emerald Botanic Gardens, shopping centres and other facilities.
“We’ve been part of some good wins for the communities,” he said.
“You work hard to get those and its been a great part of the ride.”
Over the years he sat with ministers, premiers, prime ministers and other councillors to represent the people of the region. It took him to places he never expected to be.
“That’s what I like about council and local government, it can give anyone a great opportunity to represent, advocate and promote,” Cr Bell said.
“It has been a great honour and continuously being re-elected shows that you’ve been able to maintain a pretty good connection to the community.
“You don’t always get everything right, but people see you do represent them from whichever part of the community they come from.”
The decision to step down comes just before local government elections to in March.
Cr Bell is looking forward to spending more time with his family and travelling with his wife.
“It’s time to say goodbye and it’s been tough to come to the realisation that it’s time for me to step away,” he said.
“It gives us a bit more time to look at our country and visit the communities we have been to but never really had time to enjoy.”
Although he is stepping back from government, Cr Bell is still heavily involved as chairman of the Queensland Local Government Grants Commission and a member of the Central Queensland Hospital and Health Board.
“It’s a new opportunity for me to promote healthy lifestyles, promote health to the community and to build on a really, really good health system we’ve got here in Queensland,” he said.
Cr Bell said he couldn’t wait to see what would happen next and he encouraged young people to step into the role.
“Council needs some new energy and thinking,” he said.
“I’ve always loved the passion and the energy of young people and I’ve always said to myself, ‘the future is in good hands’.
“I can’t thank the community enough. I’ve got so much faith in them – they’re already great leaders.
“I urge young people to be a councillor. Step into it. It’s a great ride; you’ll love it.”