Cartoon names? Mine’s bigger than yours! See you in Court! Can we have some useful discussion about Councils now, please?
Local Government influences our lives every day. Surely we can do it better. As the debates become more trivial our Councils are seriously distracted from what they are elected for. The voters just shake their heads and look away. Let’s get better at this.
Councils in WA employ 14,000 people, have 1,300 elected members, receive $M274 in grants, raise more from Rates and have $13 billion of capital assets. Almost no Councils are keeping up a required level of asset maintenance. An Access Economics study concluded that “The long-term finances of a majority of WA Councils look unsustainable.”
The worlds of finance, environment and society have become complex beyond the skills of many elected members and many voters. Way too few Councillors are able to understand the financial and governance issues around overseeing such operations. It’s just not good enough to spend valuable meeting time debating Mrs Jones’ fence, Council boundaries and the flat roof next door.
Current focus on boundaries and amalgamations is far short of a useful discussion about what we want from our Councils. Size is a distraction. What do you think we should focus on?
Some Councils are trying to raise the skills of Councillors by offering training courses. Unfortunately the people who need these skills most are often not the ones who enlist. Compulsory training seems to be too hard to enforce. Here are my thoughts on what it takes to be a Councillor. Perhaps these thoughts should apply to Members of Parliament too.
- Interest in long-term direction of the local community.
- Listening skills, prepared to listen more often than to tell
- Prepared to meet with the community, often.
- At least one, and usually two or three evenings a week to dedicate to meetings, workshops and briefings.
- Able to read and understand a big weekly information pack.
- Ability to think strategically about organisational purpose.
- Effective decision-making skills. Not as simple as it sounds.
- Understand the difference between individual and group decision-making.
- Able to work to sustain long-term viability and define values for self and the Council.
- Able to imagine and lead new future directions.
- Able to discuss widely differing opinions respectfully and to disagree agreeably.
- Able to synthesise direction amidst complexity and conflicting values and objectives.
- Understand the difference between management and leadership (Councillors have no executive authority at all)
- Not be focussed on a ‘single issue’.
- Be prepared to assess your own biases and positions.
- Ability to read and interpret financial reports.
- Sense of humour.
- Collaborative style.
- Wide range of contacts and life experience.
- Be well travelled and widely read.
- An enquiring mind.
- Risk assessment skills. Risk is a daily consideration.
- Open to continuous learning.
- Expertise in at least one relevant field, e.g. architecture, town planning, finance, environment, waste, law, social services, communications, psychology, science.
- Board experience.
- Qualifications such as MBA, GAICD (Australian Institute of Company Directors).
- Preparedness to respond with good grace and respect in all sorts of circumstances.
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