So You Are Thinking of Becoming a Local Government Councillor?

A booklet has been released by the Department of Local Government, which is available at your Local Council Offices, which details information you need to know when considering running for Council.

Councils provide services to their communities to develop and improve the local infrastructure and to meet the cultural and recreational needs of the people. Although the mix of services varies from Council to Council, typically Councils provide roads, waste removal and public facilities.

The Local Government Act 1993 provides a legislative framework reflecting modern community expectations and gives Councils broad powers to plan for and manage local community services and facilities. This Act is administered by the NSW Minister for Local Government, if Council takes action or makes a decision without the necessary legislative authority, it may be held by a court of law to be acting beyond its power.

Councils, like other organisations, employ professional staff such as engineers, building surveyors and librarians. These employees advise the elected Councillors, administer the day to day operations of the council and implement council policies and other decisions.

The General Manager, who is appointed on a renewable, fixed term, performance based contract, is responsible for the day to day management of Council and is the link between the elected body and its employees.

While Council staff have a duty to implement Council decisions, they are responsible to the General Manager, who in turn is responsible to the Council. Individual Councillors do not have the right to direct Council staff in their day to day activities.

Most Councils get from one third to two thirds of their regular income from rates. Councils can get additional income from fees for the use of publicly owned facilities. Fees can also be charged for providing information, supplying products and receiving applications. All Councils receive a financial assistance grant each year, which is paid by the State Government. The amount of the grant varies from Council to Council, and it is up to the Council how the grant money is spent. Councils also receive grants from other sources from time to time. Some of these grants must be used for specific purposes, for example Roads & Maritme Services may make a grant for work on a particular road. It is also possible for Councils to borrow money to increase their income, though only with the approval from the Minister.

Council staff, including senior staff, are accountable to the General Manager, who is in turn accountable to the elected body of Councillors. Ultimately Councillors are accountable to the community on election day every four years.

A Councils program is set out in its management plan. Every year, after placing a draft management plan on display for at least 28 days, each council adopts a management plan for the next financial year. This important document sets out the activities the council plans to undertake over at least the next three years. It also details Councils revenue policy for the next year, i.e. how it plans to pay for its activities. The revenue policy gives details of councils estimated income and expenditure for the next year, describes the rates, charges and fees it plans to impose, outlines Councils pricing policy and announces proposed borrowings. It is very important that Councillors are aware of what they are approving when they adopt the revenue policy in the Councils management plan. Councillors should encourage the General Manager to recommend options for cost effective service delivery and strategies for raising revenue. Similarly, Councillors should make suggestions and ask the General Manager to report on their viability. After the plans adoption, the General Manager must report quarterly to the Council on the extent to which the performance targets in the plan have been achieved during that quarter. At the end of the financial year, an Annual Report is prepared on the Councils achievements and performance in relation to its management plan.

Councils can be investigated for deficient or irregular conduct by the Department of Local Government. Staff and Councillors may be questioned and documents may be required to be produced. A report on the investigation is sent to the Council and the Minister for Local Government.

THE ROLE OF THE MAYOR AND COUNCILLORS

The Mayor is commonly regarded as the leader in the Community. In addition to having responsibilities as a Councillor, the Mayor can represent the Council and exercise urgent policy making functions between meetings. The Mayor usually acts as a spokesperson for Council, carries out certain civic and ceremonial functions and presides as chairperson during Council meetings.

The Councillors are elected by eligible residents and ratepayers within the community and hold office for four years. The Councillors role is to direct and control the Councils affairs in line with the requirements of the Local Government Act.

Council should determine a broad vision for its community, based on an understanding of its demographic, social and cultural characteristics, the needs of the various parts of the community, and in recognition of the range of service, environmental, public health and infrastructure requirements to meet these needs.

As a group, Councillors have statutory powers and responsibilities. Their most important function is to determine Council policies and objectives which are consistent with its broader vision for meeting its obligations in serving the needs and aspirations of the whole community. Councillors allocate council resources and monitor the councils performance to ensure that these objectives are being met.

While Councillors provide the strategic direction for their local area through determining Council policies and objectives, it is emphasized that the day to day management of the Councils organisation, the employment of staff and the implementation of Council decisions are functions of the General Manager not Councillors.

Councillors are expected to make every effort to attend all Council meetings and all meetings of any committee of which they are members. Any Civic Office also requires a good deal of reading in preparation for meetings and time to attend Council inspections and conferences. Those thinking of standing for election would be well advised to make themselves familiar with the process of debate, which at its best allows everyone to have a say and enables well considered decision making.

Sometimes people stand at local government elections because they have a special interest in one or two issues. A word of caution, Councillors have a responsibility to represent the broad needs and wishes of the whole community, not to be interested in only limited issues or to represent only specific interest group, no matter how valid those groups demands may be.

The commitment required to be an effective Councillor is great and the community expects every Councillor to provide representation in relation to all council activities and responsibilities. Councillors therefore need to become familiar with the whole Council area and the important issues affecting the community.

Anyone who is entitled to vote at elections for a Council is eligible to stand for civic office as a Councillor. This means that a candidate must be at least 18 years and an Australian Citizen. The candidate must also be a resident or ratepayer of the councils area or an occupier of rateable land in the area.

People disqualified from standing for civic office include those currently serving a prison sentence, people convicted of election or property offences and people prohibited from managing companies. Serving judges, the returning officer for the Council concerned and employees of the Council concerned are also excluded.

NOMINATION FOR ELECTION

Nomination day for an election is the fifth Friday before election day. At least a week before nomination day, the returning officer gives notice of the election in a local paper. The notice calls for nomination proposals and sets out the nomination procedures.

Nomination proposals can be submitted in one of two ways. Firstly, a person can be proposed for nomination as a candidate by at least two proposers enrolled for the same ward or area. Alternatively, a person can be proposed for nomination by a registered officer of a political party.

Where the Council area is divided into wards, a person can stand for election as a Councillor for only one ward. Each candidate must be proposed on a separate nomination paper. A nomination proposal is not valid until the candidate completes and signs the form of consent. The candidate should also complete the attached statistical information sheet.

On the other hand candidates are given the opportunity to present themselves and their policies to the electors through candidate information sheets. These sheets must be lodged with nomination forms.

When the nomination paper is lodged, the candidate must pay to the returning officer a deposit of $125 in cash or by cheque issued by a bank.

Councillors must always be aware of possible conflicts of interest when participating in Council debate and decision making. There is potential for a conflict of interest whenever a person might not make an unbiased, objective judgment about an issue because of their private or personal interest in that issue. If a Councillor has an pecuniary interest in any issue, he or she must disclose that interest and refrain from debating and voting on the issue. Councillors should be aware of the detailed requirements of Chapter 14 of the Local Government Act in relation to disclosure of interests.

Councils in NSW must hold at least ten meetings a year, each one in a different month. Councillors are paid an annual fee monthly in arrears. Mayors receive an additional annual fee to that which they receive as a Councillor. The Local Government Remuneration Tribunal determines the maximum and minimum amounts for these fees each year. All Councillors on the same Council must be paid the same fee. Councillors can also claim reasonable expenses for costs incurred in the course of their civic duties and may be entitled to certain facilities to help them do their job.

Further information can be obtained from the Department of Local Government on 02 97930793 or by email to dlg@dlg.nsw.gov.au or by clicking on the link to their website below:

DEPT LOCAL GOVERNMENT WEBSITE

Or contact Councils Moulamein office on 03 58875007.

Contact Details

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Becoming a Councillor (PDF 588KB)