I HAVE something to say. Some may think I have already said enough. Seven years as the mayor of this great city is quite a soapbox. And seven months out of council is equally an opportunity to gain a new sense of space. And perspective.Much has been said of my time as mayor. Some say I stayed too long. Some say I was good. Others say I wasn't good enough. I say I did my best for all. And I did it for Ballarat. Always.For this passion I make no apology. For my mistakes, I do say sorry.However, my father always said it is better to make decisions and be wrong than not to make any at all.The past year has been an ugly one - harsh, tough, unpleasant and unsavoury.The media, and this paper in particular, worked like a pepper grinder to crush community confidence in the council and scattering the resulting grit.Good councillors and council employees were among the crush.It all began after a report by the Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer was tabled in Parliament. It was then that former Ballarat councillor Wayne Rigg sparked the Victorian Government's inquiry into the City of Ballarat.Mr Rigg raised questions about the way decisions within the council were made. He questioned associations between councillors and developers. He questioned councillor declarations of interest.And he had the right to ask each question.The Ombudsman's report investigated conflict of interest within local government, reviewing the rules by which councils and councillors must operate.Mr Brouwer suggested the Local Government Act was not clear enough about the rules CEOs and councillors need to follow in declaring pecuniary interests.Clearly staff and councillors, across the state, were not sure about certain provisions of the code.The Victorian Government felt the report's heat, so went to work to cool matters. Under the direction of Local Government Minister Richard Wynne, the Ballarat council was first in line for a hosing down.But the exhaustive inquiry into the council found nothing to substantiate any of Cr Riggs' outrageous claims.Despite my seven years on the council, the only misdemeanour it indirectly uncovered was my failure to list, in my 2006 Return of Interests, that my family trust was not operating.Yes, I marched off to court. And yes, the magistrate ruled that I had done the wrong thing, sternly telling me that ignorance is no excuse. But I pleaded not guilty for a reason - I genuinely believed I was innocent.What I will plead guilty to is being naive. Naive to believe I could take on Big Brother. Naive to think that politics isn't all pervading.So, here I am, an observer, like many, of the 'new' council. It is bright. It is bubbly, it is reflective, maybe political, and it is policy driven.Good luck to it. (I hope the councillors can continue sipping from the honeymoon champagne for some time yet. Hiccup.) But, for all this, what has been achieved?Do ratepayers have something more than before? Is the system stronger, tougher, better, more robust? More transparent? I believe it is time some even bigger questions were asked: questions like do we still need three tiers of government? And if not, which level should get the chop?On many mayoral trips to Canberra, I would return with the whinging and whining of politicians, from both sides of politics, ringing in my ears.Their frustration was dealing with another two levels of government.Their harping clearly identified that just one is more than enough, and regional local government will be just fine, thanks.I do believe that state governments regard local government as a threat to their power.What I would like the people of Ballarat to remember is that, despite the apparent mayhem, I led a council that was, and is, the envy of most in Australia.Through the thick haze of negative press that enveloped my council, I truly hope Ballarat ratepayers also took notice of the finer print. If they had, they would know of Ballarat's unprecedented growth, and our enviable position of beingthe most fiscally responsible council in Victoria.Rightly or wrongly, the previous council copped a poison-tipped arrow straight to the heart. And rightly or wrongly, governance is seemingly the new standard by which councils are now measured up.It will be interesting. Even the Municipal Association of Victoria believes the recent controls on pecuniary interests are clearly unworkable.So, would I do it all again? Yes. Would I stay for seven years? No. Would I passionately take on every constituent's issue? Yes. Would I support the government of the day? Yes. Would I ensure all decisions were made in the best interests of Ballarat? Yes. Would I take on the fight to ensure Ballarat remains the number one regional city in Victoria? Absolutely.I thank my friends and family for their magnificent support over the past years and for the six great councillors that supported me.They were there for a pittance and did their very best for the community. Personally, I know much has been lost over the past 12 months.Some people may now question my integrity. Others no longer trust, and some respect has gone.It is a shame, but I move on with great optimism and great hope, not only for myself, but for this city.It must go forward, and I will never ever drop the baton for Ballarat.I have learnt that managers/CEOs are not leaders, and leaders are not managers. There is a big difference.I certainly tried to lead for all. Perhaps I should have taken notice, a little earlier, of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when she said: ''I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.'' Perhaps.