As Leanne Barnes looks ahead to her final weeks as general manager of the Bega Valley Shire Council, she does so with a great deal of pride in the whole organisation.
Leading the region through what has been arguably the most challenging period of a generation, she has this week been recognised with a meritorious award in the 2021 Queen's Birthday Honours List.
Ms Barnes - already presented with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), in 2019 - has now been awarded the Public Service Medal, "for outstanding public service to local government in New South Wales".
In the citation for the award - the full Queen's Birthday Honours List was revealed publicly Sunday night - it is said Ms Barnes "has shown expertise and commitment in her leadership of the Bega Valley community as it responded to and recovered from 12 natural disasters since 2013, most notably the 2019-2020 bushfires".
Rather than shoulder those accolades herself, Ms Barnes said this week the award was "reflection on the whole organisation".
"None of these things come about through just one person," she said.
"I'm just one part of this big team - and I'm constantly grateful to know what an amazing group we have in the elected council and council officers, as well as all our first responders.
"There have been five elected councils since I became general manager and while they have all had different dynamics, they have all been there for the right reasons and with an eye on the bigger picture."
Ms Barnes has been with the BVSC for 19.5 years and was first appointed general manager in August 2013.
However, before that she had already had a few stints as acting GM as well as director of corporate and community services among other departments like governance and community planning.
She said at the time it was a big deal and the first appointment of a woman to a director's role in the history of the BVSC.
"There are some beautiful gifts I've received in this job that I will always treasure. One of them is from Sharon Tapscott of a nice wood box filled with broken glass - Sharon said it was the remnants of the glass ceiling!"
Ms Barnes said she did not agree with top Queen's Birthday Honours going to people for the job they are paid to do and it was better to recognise those going above and beyond "like all our fabulous volunteers giving time and time again to our community".
"But what I do hope this does is show people, especially women, that you can get recognised for doing this."
Ms Barnes' contract as general manager expires in early July and she did not seek to renew it. However that does not diminish her love for the region and those she has worked with over the years.
"Here is special - a special place, a special community.
"We will always have challenges.
"We don't always get things right, we make mistakes. But what we do, especially in disaster response, is we take time to reflect on what did we need to do, what will we do next time.
"We are always doing things smarter and more innovatively.
"It's a real honour to work with these wonderful people.
"Sometimes they challenge me and they can absolutely do that, but we all continue to work for our community to the best of our abilities."
Queen's Birthday Honour citation
Leanne Barnes, Merimbula - Public Service Medal (PSM)
Leanne Barnes has shown expertise and commitment in her leadership of the Bega Valley community as it responded to and recovered from 12 natural disasters since 2013, most notably the 2019-2020 bushfires.
As general manager, she has driven the Bega Valley Shire Council's response to these natural disasters. During the 2019-2020 bushfires, she guided the set-up of evacuation and recovery centres, and the creation of local recovery committees, while always being available to support a traumatised and devastated community.
She was instrumental in bringing together and strengthening collaboration between councils, state agencies and other stakeholders through her involvement in the Canberra Region Joint Organisation, the Southern Region Leadership Executive team and Southern NSW Recovery Committees. She had a profound impact on both the Bega Valley Shire Council and the Bega Valley community through her networks, particularly with the NSW and Commonwealth Governments, by advocating and attracting over $157 million in grant funding to support community assets, services and disaster recovery.
Throughout all the natural disasters that have faced the Bega Valley over the past eight years, she has developed a reputation of delivering projects to the highest quality and in turn earnt the respect of her peers. She has been able to source information, secure assistance, and advocate for local solutions to support decision making during the height of a crisis, but also in the recovery phase.
She is a dedicated lateral thinker that wears multiple hats and gets things done. She manages a turbulent, ever changing workplace with a steady hand, and encourages her staff to support each other and be empathetic to the challenging and changing environments being experienced right across the community.
Ms Barnes has created a connected, responsive, and committed local government organisation with the confidence to successfully navigate whatever challenges lie ahead, hand-in-hand with the community