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The relationship between the mayor and the general manager is crucial to a well-functioning council. A dysfunctional relationship between a mayor and a general manager can have a significant and long-lasting negative impact on the performance of a council.
As with good governance in general, a good relationship between the mayor and general manager relies partly on following the law, guidelines and protocols, and partly on the good judgement and common sense of the individuals.Section 27 (1)(ba) of the Local Government Act and section 62(1)(g) of the Local Government Act states that communications between the council and the administration are the responsibility of the mayor and general manager.
How effectively mayors and general managers undertake this communication can influence the performance of the whole council. An effective council depends on how mayors and general managers choose to interact. Where general managers and mayors can build a relationship based on trust, respect and acknowledgement of the need for collaborative engagement, they will have a solid foundation to lead an effective council focussed on the best interests of the community. A simple and effective tool to promote a good relationship between the mayor and the general manager is weekly meetings.
While it is the responsibility of councils to select general managers, after an election mayors can find that they are working with a general manager that they did not play a role in selecting. In this situation, the mayor and the general manager should acknowledge the importance of their relationship by negotiating their expectations of an effective relationship. In the interest of providing effective leadership, this process needs to be actively pursued from day one of the new relationship.
Following recent local government elections in a regional municipality, a new mayor has come into office with quite different policy ideas to those of the previous mayor. The mayor has become frustrated because the policies of the previous council continue unchanged for some time. He begins to express dissatisfaction with the general manager and believes that things won’t happen until a new general manager can be appointed.
In this scenario, the mayor believes that the general manager is not committed to helping him achieve his goals. A new mayor may think things should change automatically as a result of his or her election, but needs to understand that the general manager cannot implement a different policy until it is changed by council.
To improve governance in this situation:
- the mayor and the general manager need to find a way to work together because it is not appropriate for every new council to appoint a general manager;
- councillors need to understand that policies only change as a result of a majority vote at a council meeting;
- new councillors should be briefed on how policies can be changed or implemented;
- councillors and the administration both need to understand the role of the council – it sets the strategic goals and the administration helps to achieve these goals;
- councillors need to understand the role of the administration – the relationship between the mayor and general manager is important in achieving this;
- everyone needs to understand that the entity of council continues unchanged from one council term to the next, and it takes time and good processes to change policies and directions;
- councillors and the administration need to devote time and energy to the council planning process so that goals are understood and owned by all;
- the council and the general manager need to agree on what the general manager is expected to deliver – this should provide a fair platform for the general manager’s performance appraisal; and
- the council should contact LGAT or the Local Government Division for advice if a serious breakdown occurs.
The Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) report on the relationship between mayors and CEOs is available via the ACELG website.
12This content has been reproduced with permission from the Good Governance Guide © MAV, VLGA, LGV & LGPro 2012. See http://www.goodgovernance.org.au/.