Included with this fact sheet is a “Snapshot of the role” to provide some context for the most useful attributes . The role of each councillor is to:
- represent the interests of electors, ratepayers and residents;
- provide leadership and guidance to the community;
- facilitate two-way communication between the community and the council; and
- participate in decision making processes at meetings.
Key concept: A councillor is a member of a team, shaping the district’s future in consultation with the community.
Councillors represent the interests of all electors and residents. The representational role of a councillor does not mean that he or she has a duty to support all suggestions made. A councillor should consider the varying views of the community and then make decisions in the best interests of the whole district.
What it means to be a councillor
Councillors represent the community’s interests in many ways. They can pass on electors’ views, support initiatives, and report complaints and problems they perceive, by informing the CEO or raising such matters in council meetings. The representation of electors’ views is complicated in councils that operate under a ward system. Here, the councillor has both a duty to present the views of electors in his or her ward and to consider the good of the district as a whole when making a decision.
Explanation: A ward system occurs when the district is divided into sections for electoral purposes. These wards often reflect communities of interest within a district. For example, in the district of Ashburton there are six wards: Ashburton, Onslow, Pannawonica, Paraburdoo, Tableland and Tom Price.
Providing leadership and guidance to the community
People often look to their elected representatives to provide leadership and guidance. This can be done by highlighting directions that could be followed, putting forward options, and presenting arguments or possible solutions to a problem at community forums and council meetings.
Developing a vision for the community and deciding what needs to be done to achieve that vision is an important role for council members. Convincing the community to endorse and follow that vision (and associated plans) requires leadership.
It is important to recognise that the most fundamental task is trying to achieve a strong sense of shared purpose and commitment. The needs and desires of the community are constantly changing and evolving. Councillors must be prepared to initiate new policies and activities in response to these changes.
Facilitating communication between the community and the council
To be effective, council members need to understand the views of the people they represent. Communication is a multi-faceted process that needs to flow both ways to be effective. Councillors provide information to the community about the policies and decisions of council, and the community relays its desires, concerns and opinions to the council through the councillors.
To represent both electors and the council effectively, a councillor needs to be a good communicator and keep in touch with the local community.
Councillors can keep in touch with electors in a variety of ways including:
- attending meetings of local organisations;
- being available and responding to residents who wish to raise issues or concerns;
- attending events arranged by the local government;
- participating in functions held in the local area;
- communicating with the community via a newsletter, email or website; and
- reading the local newspaper.
Key concept: If you explain to electors why and how decisions were made in council, they are less likely to be critical when decisions do not go their way.
The policy making role of a councillor includes:
- assessing and evaluating community needs;
- establishing priorities for the various needs identified;
- considering the allocation of local government resources;
- convincing fellow councillors of these needs and obtaining their support.
To initiate new policies and activities successfully, a councillor will often need to gather information and obtain advice. This may be achieved through the council staff, following an approach to the CEO.
However, it should be remembered that while a policy may begin with an individual idea, decisions are not made by the individual councillor alone. They are made by the whole council.
This democratic process means that a councillor must accept the majority decision when the council votes upon a motion. Consequently, if a council member feels strongly about an issue, and does not have a conflict of interest in the matter, he or she should present a well-constructed and researched argument during the debate on the motion. If the result of the vote is against the wishes of an individual councillor, he or she should accept that result graciously. Each council member has the right to have their dissent recorded in the minutes.
Planning for the future
All local governments must plan for the future, and this process starts with a Strategic Community Plan and a Corporate Business Plan.
The Strategic Community Plan is a 10-year plan which states the aspirations, vision and objectives of the community, and needs to be developed with input from the community and adopted by council.
The local government’s administration then needs to develop a four-year Corporate Business Plan which prioritises all the important projects, services and activities needed to implement the Strategic Community Plan. It should state how much each will cost, what assets will be involved, and who will implement them.
It is recommended that the Corporate Business Plan be developed using “Informing strategies”, particularly asset management, long term financial planning and workforce planning. These inform the local government how capable it is of delivering the services requested by the community. Informing strategies about specific issues, such as community safety or major infrastructure works, also assist the local government to deliver these services.
Council does not need to approve the operational plan or business unit plans referenced in the Corporate Business Plan, but should regard the community’s long-term objectives and the local government’s capacity to deliver when deciding its priorities.
Council can review the Strategic Community Plan every two years through a “desktop review”, to make sure it is meeting the changing needs of the community. Council is required to conduct a major review of the plan every four years. The council will also review the Corporate Business Plan annually, to respond to changes inside and outside the local government. This process also helps council in setting the annual budget.
More information is available in the DLGSC’s Integrated Planning and Reporting Framework and Guidelines publication.