Councillors are accountable to their community and need to demonstrate effective leadership to meet challenges and develop long-term visions and goals that guide their municipalities' futures.
The community expects councillors to be:
- honest and ethical
- motivated to perform
- reliable and approachable
- knowledgeable about the community
- influenced by community concerns
- good communicators.
Councillors are required to participate in a wide variety of activities, both as elected representatives and as members of council.
- Community involvement and accountability
- Debating and decision-making
- Council plans and annual report
- Budgeting and financial management
- Determining development proposals
- CEO performance review
Community involvement and accountability
Many citizens who become councillors already have a high level of involvement in community organisations and events. Attending community meetings, gauging community values and needs, as well as being available and approachable are part of being a councillor.
Councillors, both individually and collectively, are accountable to their community. They have a responsibility to respond to requests for information, be prepared to explain the reasons for their own or council's actions, and defend council proposals.
The council often represents and advocates on behalf of its residents and community on key issues that affect the wellbeing of the local area. This includes meeting with other levels of government, statutory bodies, businesses and regional interest groups.
Councillors need to balance their obligation to represent the interests of their constituents and to make decisions that will benefit the broader community. Where councillors are making administrative decisions that affect the rights of people (such as deciding on planning permit applications), they must restrict their consideration only to relevant matters.
Debating and decision-making
Council's key decisions are made during regular council meetings and meetings of special committees.
Councillors receive the agenda and relevant reports to read before full council and committee meetings. The reports provide background information and advice on each issue from council officers.
At the meetings, councillors will debate the issues and make considered decisions in the best interests of the community.
The decision-making processes of the council must be open, accessible and transparent except in limited circumstances when confidentiality is required. Any meeting of a council, or a special committee, must be open to members of the public. The Local Government Act 1989 specifies the circumstances where a council meeting can be closed to the public.
It is the responsibility of a councillor to ensure that they are properly informed in their decision-making.
The Local Government Act requires all councils to make a local law to govern the conduct of their council meetings.
Council plans and annual report
Under the Local Government Act, councils must produce a council plan, strategic resources plan and annual report.
The development and adoption of these documents is the responsibility of councillors.
In developing these documents, councils must follow a statutory process which includes the documents being:
- available for public inspection
- formally adopted by council
- submitted to the Minister for Local Government.
A council must adopt a council plan by 30 June following a general election. The council plan must include the strategic objectives of council, strategies for achieving the objectives for at least the next four years, strategic indicators for monitoring the achievement of the objectives and a strategic resource plan.
Each year, the council must also prepare an annual report. This reports the achievements and activities of the council for that financial year. It's available to the community and other stakeholders.
The annual report must include audited performance statements reporting on achievements against the key targets and measures identified in the council's budget and council plan.
Budgeting and financial management
Councillors are responsible for determining the council's annual budget. This includes activities and projects, and the level of rates and charges needed to fund them.
The budget must also identify targets and measures showing which key strategic activities will be achieved during the year. This must be consistent with the council plan.
Councillors also monitor spending against the annual budget and the achievement of council objectives.
Councils are required to implement the principles of sound financial management as set out in the Local Government Act.
Determining development proposals
A councillor's role in forming strategic land use and development plans, and deciding planning applications can be challenging and time consuming. Councillors contribute to the review of the council's planning scheme, including the municipal strategic statement. They also actively participate in the development of local planning policies to form a sound strategic basis for decision-making.
Councillors are often faced with having to decide contentious development proposals after considering opposing viewpoints from objectors, developers and other interested parties.
When deciding applications, council must consider:
- objections and submissions received by the council
- environmental issues
- visual amenity
- the impact of development on neighbourhood character
- other economic and social impacts.
As councils are faced with having to decide thousands of applications per year, some decision-making responsibilities may be delegated to council officers. Council policies must be clear and unambiguous so they can provide guidance to officers deciding applications.
CEO performance review
Management accountability is a fundamental responsibility of the elected council.
When council has decided on its direction, strategy and policies, it delegates authority to the chief executive officer (CEO) who implements those decisions and manages day-to-day operations.
The CEO is employed by the council under an employment contract that can't be longer than five years. The contract must specify performance criteria that are used in a periodic review of the CEO's performance.
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