HE'S the man who would be mayor, and already Jamie Cregan is ruffling feathers in his campaign to win a seat on the Queanbeyan City Council benches.
Running on a pro-business ticket alongside a series of local business and community leaders calling themselves 'Cregan Independents,' the 39-year-old is using his profile as president of the Queanbeyan Business Council - along with the backing of local small business owners - to mount a political assault on incumbent Tim Overall.
It's no small task to challenge a mayor of Councillor Overall's community standing, and already some political sources have said Mr Cregan is out of his depth. But as a successful business owner and operator and the president of the Business Council, Mr Cregan said he backs his business ability to make important changes in Queanbeyan.
High up on his list of priorities is "reengaging Council with the community." "I think the current council has been an active council, and it's certainly achieved things under Tim [Overall], but having said that I feel there's been a lack of engagement with the community and with the business community," Mr Cregan said.
He also wants to corporatise many of the works functions of Council, and use council labour to generate profits and relieve some of the burden on ratepayers. "We're one of the only councils in the state without an economic development unit. I'd like to see the creation of one that reports directly to councillors."
"We've got to start to think outside the old square and look at alternative ways we can make money, rather than just slugging ratepayers with rate rises.
"This year we've got $20 million of capital works going on in the operational plan. Of that money, $1.1 million is all we've got coming from the ratepayers- the rest is either all grant funding or it's coming from Section 94 developer contributions.
"That $20 million, if we could make a 10 per cent profit doing that work, we would make more than the 5.8 per cent [special rate variation] will ever bring. That per square-metre of footpath- we can deliver more. That per square-metre of mulch- we can deliver more," he said. "If we put those business structures in place, we can actually do better for our community without a 5.8 per cent rate rise."
But some council sources have said Mr Cregan is underestimating the challenges of local government. Councillor Trudy Taylor for one has criticised Mr Cregan's lack of council experience.
She said his suggestion in last week's Queanbeyan Age that the construction timeframe of the Crawford Street lifestyle precinct was aligned more with the political interests of councillors than the interests of local businesses showed a "clear lack of understanding of the processes…he aspires to".
Cr Taylor said that the planning processes of major infrastructure developments like Crawford Street were complex and time-consuming, and urged Mr Cregan to familiarise himself with them. "Reality dictates that proper planning, dealing with multi levels of bureaucracy, applying for grants and funding, and limited resources takes time…fundamental processes that those with aspirations might do well to become better acquainted with," Cr Taylor said.
Other political insiders have questioned whether the pro-business ethos of the Cregan Independents is not actually a Liberal Party ticket in disguise. But Mr Cregan laughed off the Liberal Party tag. "I've never been a member of the Liberal Party, and I think for local government it's better to not be bound to a particular party," he said
"You've got to work with both sides of politics in this area because it's a swinging state- we've got a Labor federal member and a National state member. We need to be in a position where we can negotiate better outcomes for the community with whoever's in power."
Furthermore, he said that the interests of the local community and local business often went hand in hand. "Business understands that without community you have no business. It's a very symbiotic relationship and we're very much aware of what the community needs. We live in it, and every person on our ticket is a family person," he said.
"Sporting groups and local charities are very well supported by local business, and if we don't have profitable local business, than our sporting and community groups are going to suffer."
As for stirring up the pot when it comes to the current Council panel, Mr Cregan said he was pleased to see he was already making waves. "I feel very proud of that. But because we've come out in the way we have, with policy rather than rhetoric, I think the community is engaging with us and listening to us and genuinely interested in what we have to say," he said.