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Department of Premier and Cabinet

Mayor

The role of the mayor is to:

  1. act as a leader of the community in the municipal area;
  2. act as a leader, chair and spokesperson of the council;
  3. liaise with the general manager; and
  4. oversee elected members in the performance of their functions.

Mayors are an important influence on the culture within councils and have a duty to lead by example. Mayors can promote good governance by practicing good governance themselves and setting the tone for the entire organisation. Mayors must:

  • have and act in line with high ethical standards – mayors must act with integrity and impartiality;
  • understand and not overstep their role – the mayor is the leader of the elected members and does not have a role in instructing council employees;
  • foster positive relationships – the mayor has a responsibility to foster positive and respectful relationships among elected members and with the general manager;
  • lead effective strategic planning – the mayor must show a commitment to community engagement, respect the points of view of the community and guide the strategic planning process;
  • engage in risk management – mayors should guide elected members to pursue opportunities while managing associated risks;
  • follow a transparent and accountable decision making process and support the decisions of the council, even if the council’s decision conflicts with the mayor’s private views;
  • understand and abide by the law – the mayor must respect the requirements of the Act and other relevant legislation;
  • ensure that elected members are given appropriate education and training relating to ethical conduct, as required in the mayor’s role as a Principal Officer under the Integrity Commission Act 2009; and
  • commit to continuous improvement – mayors should encourage a culture of continuous improvement at the council and individual level.

The Local Government Association of Tasmania has produced a Mayoral Handbook which provides commentary on various provisions in the Local Government Act 1993. The Handbook is intended to assist mayors in meeting their duties and obligations, in particular their relationship with other elected members, council officers and the community.

The functions of the mayor are defined in section 27 of the Local Government Act.

1. Community leader

Mayors play an important role advocating for and speaking on behalf of the community. Sometimes a mayor’s role involves promoting the strengths of his or her community in an effort to attract investment, defending his/her community in the face of criticism, or reflecting on community sentiment in response to a major event. Whatever the situation, it is crucial that mayors are in touch with their community and are able to speak accurately on the community’s behalf, and that they speak in a way that respects the community.

2. Leader, chair and spokesperson for the council

Leader

As the leader of the council, the mayor plays an important role in building a united team. A council must function as a team in order to effectively govern. Where there is a breakdown in the team dynamic among elected members, there will be a loss of focus on acting in the interests of the community. A breakdown in the team dynamic can also lead to confusion and loss of direction among the administration, and affect the reputation of the council in the eyes of the community.
The mayor can help build a united team by setting a good example, showing respect to other elected members and the council administration, and effectively chairing council meetings.

Chair

The mayor plays a key role in promoting good governance by effectively chairing council meetings.

Effective chairing is inclusive, ensuring that all elected members have the opportunity to be heard, that elected members are able to speak without being interrupted, and that meetings are not dominated by a sub-group of elected members.

It is the mayor’s responsibility to manage any poor behaviour that may arise at council meetings, including bullying or harassment.

Mayors can facilitate effective council meetings by:

  • ensuring that debate stays focused and concentrates on strategic (not operational) matters;
  • clarifying a motion and ensuring that everyone has had a say before calling a vote;
  • highlighting important points; and
  • clarifying any misunderstandings.

Mayors are responsible for keeping to the agenda and pacing the meeting.

Not all elected members will get their way on every decision, but by following this process, and showing that every point of view has been heard and considered, elected members are more likely to accept decisions that do not align with their point of view.

At the end of meetings, mayors may like to summarise the achievements of the meeting and thank elected members for their time and contribution to the meeting. This acknowledgment promotes a positive relationship between the mayor and other elected members, and shows elected members that the time they give to their role is valued.

The rules governing meetings, including the powers of the role of Chairperson are set out in the Local Government (Meeting Procedures) Regulations 2015.

Spokesperson

As spokesperson of the council, the mayor must fairly represent the views and decisions of a council, even if the mayor does not agree with the view or decision. Mayors, like all elected members, have the opportunity to express their views in the lead-up to a decision and during debate. However, if the final decision of the council conflicts with the private view of the mayor, the mayor should refrain from expressing a view that is contrary to the formal position of the council. A mayor expressing a view that opposes the agreed position of the council can lead to confusion and can lead the community to believe that the council is divided. 


SCENARIO7

The mayor of a local council strongly supports a recommendation which is currently being discussed at the council meeting. A vigorous debate is taking place, as a number of councillors are not in support of the recommendation. The mayor provides extra time for those arguing in favour, while restricting those arguing against to the precise time limit set out in the Local Government (Meeting Procedures) Regulations 2015. The mayor comments unfavourably on every speech which argues against the recommendation, and also takes the opportunity to make a speech in its favour.

The mayor has an important role in managing the meeting, so that all councillors get a chance to present their views and be heard by their colleagues. Taking a partisan position during a debate can detract from the mayor’s capacity to manage the meeting in the interests of fairness and participation by all. Even the perception of partisan management of the meeting can negatively impact on the decision making process and can ultimately affect the degree to which a decision is ‘owned’ by all councillors. Members of the community may think the mayor is not being impartial, which can undermine confidence in the council.

To improve the governance in the situation:

  • the mayor must manage the council meeting in a way which facilitates good decision making processes, and the participation and engagement of all councillors; and
  • the mayor should be impartial and fair in managing the meeting, allowing all councillors to have the same opportunity to present their views.

3. Liaising with the general manager

The relationship between the mayor and the general manager is fundamentally important to a well-performing council.

Section 27 (1)(ba) of the Local Government Act gives a mayor the responsibility of liaising with the general manager in relation to council activities and the performance of council functions and exercise of council powers. This includes:

  • encouraging a strong working relationship between the mayor and the general manager; and
  • ensuring that the mayor is informed about key activities of council, as well as its functions and powers.

The functions of the general manager are clearly and separately defined in section 62 of the Local Government Act.

4. Oversee the elected members in the performance of their functions

Section 27(1)(c) of the Local Government Act outlines the responsibility of mayors regarding elected members’ fulfilling their functions and exercising their powers. This may involve:

  • advising elected members on the handling of council business, including the division of responsibility between the council, elected members and the general manager;
  • assisting elected members to gain an overall appreciation of the organisation and its various parts;
  • encouraging participation in training and development programs for elected members;
  • overseeing compliance with any adopted policies or the code of conduct;
  • discussing with elected members ideas and proposals that they wish to bring before the council and offering advice on how to take matters forward in an orderly and appropriate manner;
  • being available to elected members to discuss their concerns on matters that are potentially difficult or sensitive;
  • advising when it is inappropriate to approach the general manager;
  • ensuring that the general manager and council officers are able to perform their functions free of interference or undue influence;
  • mediating disputes between elected members that may arise;
  • communicating regularly with elected members to determine their concerns and any issues that may need to be addressed; and
  • encouraging elected members to identify ways to improve the approach they take to fulfilling their responsibilities. 


SCENARIO8

A councillor has recently been on the losing side of a series of votes, including the council annual plan, the budget and some key projects. The councillor now feels marginalised and has started to publicly criticise the council and its processes. Other councillors are responding to the councillor’s negative attitude and counter-productive behaviour, and the focus of council meetings is moving away from community interests.

If councillors believe their views are not being considered in the decision making process, they will look for alternative ways to have an impact. Public or private criticism of other councillors and the administration, leaking of information, and failing to distinguish between the views of the council and individual opinions can all make the process of decision making more difficult, as well as undermine the council’s reputation in the local community.

The mayor can help to resolve the situation by:

  • determining whether the councillor’s motivations are legitimate or deliberately destructive – the outcome may be the same, but the way the issue is handled can vary considerably;
  • ensuring every councillor feels that they have a meaningful part to play in council processes and that their views are being heard;

talking to the councillor and hopefully agreeing on a more productive way of dealing with the situation;

  • if confidential information has been leaked, making the councillor aware of the provisions and penalties contained in the Act and reinforcing with the councillor that they will be enforced; and
  • contacting the Local Government Association of Tasmania and/or the Local Government Division for impartial advice to resolve the issue.

7This content has been reproduced with permission from the Good Governance Guide © MAV, VLGA, LGV & LGPro 2012. See http://www.goodgovernance.org.au/

8This content has been reproduced with permission from the Good Governance Guide © MAV, VLGA, LGV & LGPro 2012. See http://www.goodgovernance.org.au/