Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent has announced that he won't contest the council election in September.
Cr Pynsent is retiring after 22 years in local government, which will include nine years as mayor by the time his term ends - equalling the record set by his mentor, the late John Clarence, as Cessnock's longest-serving mayor.
The current council term was extended by 12 months, after the 2020 election was postponed due to risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cr Pynsent said he had planned to run if the election was held last year, but the COVID delay has given him time to reassess.
"I turned 70 in September, and my sons want me to slow down," he said.
To the next mayor and council, he offers four key points of advice: "Keep the stability, maintain a positive approach, always be 'can-do' and engage with the community".
Cr Pynsent said he was proud to have helped bring stability to the organisation, particularly through the Fit for the Future process (which it passed in 2015).
"Rather than fight the process, we worked with it. We have been able to become more efficient, without having to go through a significant rate rise," he said.
"Cessnock City Council has gone quite a bit of a way to get respect of other councils across NSW as a result of this financial sustainability.
"It's a testimony to our great staff."
Hosting the Japanese National Football Team's pre-Asian Cup camp in 2015, and projects such as the award-winning Seniors Festival and Youth Week events and the newly-completed Bridges Hill playground were among the highlights of Cr Pynsent's time on council.
He said these initiatives were a result of a "can-do" attitude and a positive approach, which he hopes will continue in the new council.
"It was all built on having a go... same with the relocation of harness racing to Cessnock, and the 300-stable pre-training facility at the racecourse. All of these came from notices of motion or mayoral minutes saying 'let's put our hand up'," he said.
"Bridges Hill Park is a classic case of 'why shouldn't we' - why shouldn't Cessnock have a world-class facility like that?
"And now we're getting recognised across Australia for the quality of that park."
Cr Pynsent said community engagement is another important attribute for the new mayor and council, particularly during times of crisis.
"Being out there in the community, during the floods and the bushfires, and making those personal connections, people really relate to that," he said.
"The Laguna-Wollombi bushfire recovery has been a lesson in collaboration."
Cr Pynsent said Cessnock has come a long way since he was first elected to council in 1999.
"It's a different city. Who would have thought back in 1999 that we'd have cafés all along the main street?" he said.
"It has changed considerably, the population has grown, and it's a challenge for council to keep the infrastructure up to pace with that change.
"But we're coping well with that, assisted by the volume of grant funding that we have received - $46 million in this term of council alone.
"As an organisation we're smarter, just as we did for Fit for the Future, we work with the guidelines for all of these grant funding opportunities."
Cr Pynsent acknowledged that council will always fall short when it comes to road repairs and maintenance.
"We're never going to have enough money to fix all of our roads," he said.
"To rebuild roads that were built from inferior products back in the coal mining days, it would cost about $1 million a kilometre. And it's such a vast network."
Another challenge that the next council will face is bringing jobs to town.
"Our goal was always for people to live and work in the Cessnock LGA - we've got the living, now we need the jobs," Cr Pynsent said.
"That's why I came out in support of the Kurri gas plant - Kurri needs those 600 jobs.
"Look at the effects the Hunter Expressway had on the area with 700 jobs, and while it was only for a short time, it boosts the area.
"The developments at Hydro and Black Hill will also assist with employment, which will be great."
Cr Pynsent is among at least five of the current councillors who won't contest the September election.
Labor councillors Darrin Gray, Di Fitzgibbon and Mark Lyons, along with the Liberals' Rod Doherty, also won't be running.
Meanwhile, the ALP has endorsed Jay Suvaal as its mayoral candidate (read more here).