Cockburn’s quiet achiever

 • Logan Howlett leads a council that is getting stratospheric satisfaction ratings from residents. File photo.

• Logan Howlett leads a council that is getting stratospheric satisfaction ratings from residents. File photo.

COCKBURN mayor Logan Howlett remembers filling his threadbare shoes with cardboard to keep his school socks dry, a spare set or two—cut from Weetbix boxes—tucked into his school bag.

“The problem was exacerbated in winter and on rainy days because I’d have to replace them when I got to school, at lunch and on the way home,” he says.

Poverty meant he often went hungry, while the pettiest of transgressions were dealt with harshly at home. Even going to a relatives for a haircut was a trial; a leather belt hung ominously outside the bathroom to discourage any resistance.

Tough upbringing

The mayor says his tough upbringing helps explain why giving local children opportunities to prosper is one of the proudest achievements of his 15 years on council.

Mr Howlett never misses the city’s teddy bear picnic, Hello Baby event or a host of other kid-friendly festivals, where he can sometimes be seen doting over his own grandchildren.

He was a key figure in establishing Cockburn’s children’s reference group (one of the few that pays more than lip service to their feedback) and his council’s $1 million grants and donations program is the most generous of its kind in Australia.

Recently more than 50 community groups, sporting clubs and individuals—a large number school-aged—scored grants ranging from $400 to thousands.

“Joel, who’s getting funding to help him attend an under-17s softball championship,” Mr Howlett smiles while reading the list of recipients.

Initially reluctant to go public about his early years, Mr Howlett agreed when the Herald pointed out he’d be a role model for others who’ve faced a tough upbringing: the kid who had nothing now heads one of the state’s most popular councils.

A recent community satisfaction survey shows his council is creaming it across a range of areas, and there’s a renewed sense of community, courtesy of the failed amalgamations.

Apart from helping pull his city back from oblivion in that process, Mr Howlett can also point to a raft of other big-ticket initiatives under his stewardship:

• the $5 billion Cockburn Coast project is underway;

• the city pinched the Dockers from Fremantle for its sports hub in Cockburn Central west;

• despite some hiccups the new super-GP clinic is operating; and,

•  the $10m new Coogee surf life saving club is cranking along.

It’s not a bad list of achievements considering the hostile council he faced early in his mayoralty.

His call for all councillors to be sacked after the Port Coogee scandal and claim that three sitting councillors were running against him simply to boost former mayor Stephen Lee’s comeback infuriated the dominant faction so much that it cut him off at every possible turn.

He was rebuffed in trying to establish committees to exert more influence over the city’s powerful executive and told he wouldn’t be able to chair briefing sessions.

Mr Howlett had to join the Cockburn Coast steering committee as a community member when his colleagues refused to back his nomination.

Councillor Yaz Mubaraki says that enmity has lifted now and Mr Howlett has helped transform how ratepayers view the council: “he’s never been more popular,” Cr Mubaraki told the Herald, saying the mayor’s “horizontal” approach to consultation and gift for listening wins fans across the chamber as well as across the city.

Port Coogee

Mr Howlett served as councillor from 1990 to 1999, then ran against Stephen Lee in the now-infamous election of 2005, where it was revealed part of the latter’s campaign had been secretly funded by Port Coogee’s developer.

After that, Mr Howlett spent his time volunteering before running in the extraordinary election of 2009 following Mr Lee’s appearance at the Corruption and Crime Commission and forced resignation.

He was re-elected in 2013, defeating then-deputy mayor Kevin Allen, and Cr Carol Reeve-Fowkes.

Mr Howlett says one of his disappointments as mayor has been failing to secure a free CAT bus route between the city and Cockburn Central.

But he told the Herald he isn’t giving up: he’ll submit a fresh proposal, stating the new aquatic centre (2017) and Bibra Lake Adventure playground (mid-2016) will drive demand.


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