After 12 years in the straight-backed chair, Mayor Ron Bellingham is ready to give up the seat.
After 12 years in the straight-backed chair, Mayor Ron Bellingham is ready to give up the seat. Jenna Cairney

Reflecting on the past 12 years

ONE of the most "horrific" experiences in Mayor Ron Bellingham's 12-year stint in the top job was the tragic car crash in 2008, which saw four local youngsters lose their lives near the Eight Mile.

After Cr Bellingham this week announced he would step down as mayor of Southern Downs Regional Council at the March election, he spoke to the Daily News about some of the highs and lows in his terms as mayor.

"The loss of those four young people was one of the most traumatic times I've experienced as a community leader," he said.

"There was huge grieving in the community."

It was the fallout of the 1996 amalgamation that prompted Cr Bellingham to stand in 2000, and almost ironic that he had to serve through a further forced amalgamation in 2008, which still remains a contentious issue for the 76-year-old.

"I had Andrew Fraser sitting in this chair and I told him it wasn't going to work," he said of the 2008 amalgamation of Warwick and Stanthorpe.

He said while deciding to stand for a second term in 2004 was a relatively easy decision to make, deciding to stand for the new Southern Downs Regional Council was tough.

"I sensed it was going to be a difficult time," Cr Bellingham said.

"The late Glen Rogers and I worked together on the transition committee and I had a lot of respect for him.

"We sat together in the front of the town hall the night of the election and he told me after he appreciated that.

"I have great respect for his passion and we were both a bit traumatised about what was forced on us."

Cr Bellingham said he decided to stand in the first instance because he saw the need for change and new blood, though he said he had the greatest respect for his contender Bruce Green.

He said, likewise, he felt now was the time for a changing of the guard and while he thought council had been operating better in the past 12 months, there was still a lot of work to be done.

"It's been four years of damn hard work," Cr Bellingham said.

"Hard work and a lot of angst, but I think I made the right decision to run."

Grappling with inconsistent valuations and forced with creating a region-wide rating system over the past two years has been one of the bigger challenges Cr Bellingham said he's had to face.

Indeed it saw him face almost violent protests in the region's south last year.

Last summer's floods saw the mayor spring into action.

"Even though it didn't reach '76 levels, and I remember both floods, it was very hard on the community," he said.

"It was just my role to know what needed to be done."

An avid fan of Winston Churchill, Cr Bellingham credits many of his leadership skills to his time doing national service.

He said he tried to quickly make an impact when first elected and said the Warwick streetscape was one of the council of the day's biggest success stories.

There was no hiding his one great disappointment though - the impending re-sale of the historic Slade Campus.

He was the leader of the council that purchased the campus in 2007 and has been vocal about its potential for community use.

However, the decision to firstly put the campus on the market and secondly reject a tender by a local community group, has left a bitter taste in his mouth.

"I'm a little disillusioned over Slade," he said.

"We had an opportunity to develop that and my vision was that, rather than see it turned into a housing estate, it should have been a community centre; potentially even a civic centre."

Some of the lighter moments include councillors falling asleep in the chamber or directors trying to move recommendations.

And as for the future, in Cr Bellingham's opinion, the region needs a strong leader.

"This area has big potential for the future," he said.

"The aim would be to increase gross average income and provide employment for young people."

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