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The council administration is accountable to the general manager, and the general manager is accountable to the council. The council sits at the top of the hierarchy, but in saying that, it is essential that the council understands that the administration operates in a complex environment and works hard to provide quality advice across a range of issues. Equally, it is essential that the administration respects the complex political environment in which elected members operate.
Communication between councillors and the administration has completely broken down in a local council. Councillors regularly make inflammatory statements to the local media claiming that they have no power because the administration is really making all the decisions.
If councillors and the administration don’t understand each other’s roles or the processes for making decisions, this can lead to serious misunderstandings and dysfunctional relationships. When this happens, the relationship is characterised by public criticism of each other and a general lack of respect.
To improve governance in this situation:
- the mayor and general manager must work together to provide leadership, as well as model respect for the administration and elected members;
- expectations need to be clarified to avoid bad feelings – councillors and senior management need to discuss the issues and how they can be addressed;
- roles need to be reviewed, redefined and understood by all – everyone should be given the opportunity to contribute on aspects that affect their role;
- the quality of advice, systems and processes should be reviewed;
- protocols should be developed to handle criticism – public outbursts should not be tolerated and all sides need to be open to constructive feedback;
- the general manager should ensure that the administration’s culture supports democratic governance – this involves leadership from senior management and training for council officers;
- the mayor and general manager need to ensure that councillors understand what can reasonably be expected from the administration and how contact can be made (protocols can help); and
- the council should contact LGAT or the Local Government Division for advice if a serious breakdown occurs.
11This content has been reproduced with permission from the Good Governance Guide © MAV, VLGA, LGV & LGPro 2012. See http://www.goodgovernance.org.au/.