Surprising candidate joins the Rockhampton mayoral race

RUSSELL Claus wants to see Rockhampton become a vibrant community and for that reason, he has nominated for mayor in the Rockhampton Regional Council by-election.

The by-election is to be held next month, on January 23, and is for the mayoral vacancy only.

Mr Claus comes from a background of economic development and planning.

Having grown up near Ipswich, Mr Claus studied a Bachelor of Environmental Science.

He spent some years working as a janitor and with the National Parks Services, with one year of five actually based in Rockhampton.

After travelling in the United States, he came back to Australia where he worked for Brisbane City Council and was heavily involved in the 2020 vision at the time and the Bushland Strategy which defines the character of the city.

Russell Claus is running for mayor. Photo Sharyn O'Neill / The Morning Bulletin
Russell Claus is running for mayor. Photo Sharyn O'Neill / The Morning Bulletin

Mr Claus headed back to the US and studied a Masters degree in Boston which led him to work in New York and Washington before settling in Oklahoma.

He arrived in Oklahoma a year after the Murrah Bombing in 1995 and was in charge of the recovery effort.

His work involved him revitalising the community from a virtually dead town centre to a bustling city.

Under Mr Claus' leadership and following the foundations he built, the town centre went from 300 residents to now 5,000 to 10,000 units, 300 hotel rooms to 2,000 to 3,000 and half a dozen 'greasy spoon hamburger' restaurants to more than 150 restaurants, including one that was voted the best restaurant in the country.

Keen to get back to his home country, Mr Claus landed himself back in Rockhampton on his return to Australia.

"I wanted to do a regional city, I have lived in major capital cities and I just wanted to scale it down," he said.

"I believe the development of regional cities is vital to the future of the country, you can't just put it all the capital cities.

"Particularly in a country of this size.

"We have to try and do whatever we can to help support the health of regional cities."

Rockhampton Regional Council former Mayor, Margaret Strelow, with Russell Claus at The Edge, looking over the Rockhampton CBD in 2014. Photo Sharyn O'Neill / The Morning Bulletin
Rockhampton Regional Council former Mayor, Margaret Strelow, with Russell Claus at The Edge, looking over the Rockhampton CBD in 2014. Photo Sharyn O'Neill / The Morning Bulletin

He worked for Rockhampton Regional Council as the manager of planning and in economic development.

After just more than two years, he made the move to Livingstone Shire Council where he now works in a placemaking role, looking at public art and landscaping to make the community more appealing.

When asked what drew him to Rockhampton, Mr Claus said he believed in the future of the Beef Capital.

"It has got incredible natural potential here both in the physical make-up of the city and the topography, we are right on the river, we have the Berserkers behind, incredible heritage buildings," he said.

"Most other populations around the world would drool over the potential of what this community can become."

Mr Claus is eager to bring a massive transformation to the region but is aware some people would be nervous.

"People are always going to be resistant of change, but change happens … you can't stand still you are either going forwards or backwards," he said.

"Even if you don't like change, it doesn't have to impact you and your daily life but if you want your kids to stay here and want your kids to return to Rockhampton, it is absolutely vital we make a community that is appealing to them and the professionals we need to sustain the economy."

Former Rockhampton mayor Margaret Strelow, Russell Claus and Rick Palmer at Beef Australia 2015. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin
Former Rockhampton mayor Margaret Strelow, Russell Claus and Rick Palmer at Beef Australia 2015. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin

With no interest in the honour and glory of being mayor, Mr Claus said he was running because he wanted to make a better world.

He believes the role of mayor will allow him to do so.

"I moved here for that reason, to be able to transform another community and I did not have the capacity to do that as a staff member on council," he said.

"It's a different structure than what it was in the US, I had a lot more autonomy over there to do what I did.

"It seems to me the position of mayor is the best way to provide that service to the community.

"I'm not doing it to be mayor, I am doing it to do mayor, to actually perform the functions and leverage the position to be able to deliver what the community needs, wants and can benefit from."

When asked about some of the key things he would like to work on, Mr Claus said he would like to address the town centre.

"It has an increasing number of vacancies, you cannot have a vibrant community with a town centre that with some many missing teeth," he said.

Sports is another area he would like to see expand.

"Sports is one of the mainstays of the community and that hasn't had adequate support in a number of areas," he said.

"One of the first things I want do is get an indoor stadium for netball.

"I don't think there has been any support for most of the women's sports in the community and that's past overdue.

"We have an outstanding rowing facility that we could offer for winter training for southern crews.

"There's a lot of little easy things that don't take much to do and don't take a lot of investment but they change the reputation of the community and diversify what we have to offer."

Lastly, Mr Claus calls himself a 'uniter' and would like to see Rockhampton Regional Council and Livingstone Shire Council work together and represent the region in a united fashion.

"That doesn't mean amalgamating, moving forward as one, there is a lot of energy wasted on an artificial division and there are a lot of efficiencies to be gained by working together," he said.