Whether you are a resident, property owner or business operator, becoming a Local Government councillor can be the most direct and rewarding way to contribute to your local community. A councillor is part of a team that has the opportunity to shape the strategic direction of the municipal area and determine the policies for the services delivered to the community. Being a councillor can be an exciting, challenging and rewarding role, but it is one that requires time, commitment and the capacity to see and embrace the 'bigger picture' on behalf of the community. Many Local Government services are complex and must continuously evolve in order to remain at a standard that meets the changing needs of the local community.
Role of Councillors
The role of a councillor is specified in the Local Government Act 1993. For more information click here.
Responsibilities of Councillors
The decisions of council are made at council meetings which councillors are required to attend. Elected members have an equal voice in council decisions, each councillor having one vote.
Meetings are held at least monthly and if a councillor is absent from three consecutive meetings the office becomes vacant.
Some points to remember regarding council meetings:
- Agendas and officers' reports are essential reading if you are to be effective in council debate and constructive in decision making. These papers can be lengthy and sufficient preparation time is needed prior to each meeting. In addition, some councils provide information to councillors via email so a knowledge of, or a willingness to learn computer skills, could make life as a councillor a lot easier.
- If a councillor is appointed to a council committee (eg. planning, works, finance) meetings in addition to scheduled council meeting can be expected.
Code of Conduct
The mayor or the general manager can explain to you your council's code of conduct, including the procedure for making a complaint.
Keeping in Touch with Electors
Within the community there are often individuals or groups with the resources to carry out community projects, but who need assistance or support. As a councillor, you may be approached to assist such people as you will have access to information, as well as skills gained through your councillor duties, that could be helpful and constructive.
As a councillor, you will have entered the domain of public life and as such, community members will want to be able to access you to discuss their concerns.
LGAT produces a fortnightly newsletter, a quarterly magazine and runs workshops and seminars that combined, are a rich source of information that support you in the important role of Local Government councillor. However, reading the local paper, listening to local radio and making an effort to stay informed about state and national current affairs will give you a broader view of issues that might have a bearing on your community and the council.
Good Communication and Listening Skills
Some people seem to be naturally gifted, but to be able to communicate is a skill that you can learn. Outside of formal training, a councillor needs to be willing to talk to and listen to people from all walks of life. Being able to develop networks within your community will provide you with a 'sounding board' against which to assess the impact of council policies.
One of the major constraints on councillors is the ability to devote adequate time to attend council and council committee meetings, community and resident's groups or prepare for meetings by study of agenda papers and financial reports. Time management is, therefore, a skill that councillors need to acquire if they are to be effective in their role.
Negotiation and Being Assertive
You may wish to hone your negotiation and lobbying skills, in particular if you wish to be a councillor of influence. You will need to effectively present potential solutions or alternative viewpoints to fellow councillors and to communicate council decisions to residents or other sectors of government.
Conflict Resolution Skills and a Thick Skin
As decision making in councils is often related to the allocation of resources, councillors can be confronted with conflict both within the council and in the community. Being able to focus on issues and not personalities associated with decisions is an important skill which will assist you to survive and thrive in what can be at times an emotionally charged atmosphere.
Councillors are entitled to an allowance based on the number of voters in the Local Government area (LGA) and the revenue of your council.
Councillors are also entitled for reimbursement for telephone, travel, child care and other expenses in accordance with your council's policy. Click here to access current allowances.
Want to Know More
One good way to find out about life as a councillor is to attend council meetings prior to making up your mind to stand. If you have already decided to stand, attendance at meetings will help with preparation for your future role. You will get a feel for the issues, the values and the level of debate.
Another suggestion is to make contact with one of your local councillors to discuss their experiences of council life.
View the presentations for prospective candidates delivered as part of pre-election workshops organised by LGAT during May 2009.
LGAT Presentation (215 kb)
Tasmanian Electoral Commission Presentation (891 kb)
Local Government Division Presentation (2395 kb)
Read more about Local Government in Tasmania. Click here.
Read what former president Lynn Mason recommends in the July 2005 issue of LGAT News magazine. Checklist_Skills for New Councillors July 2005 (206 kb)