GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT
Accommodating the interests of constituent groups with those of the whole community is an important and challenging issue for local government generally, and for councillors specifically.
One of the complexities of the role of councillors is to legitimately represent the interests of the people who elected them as well as operate in the interests of the whole community.
Good governance processes allow councillors to put forward their constituents’ issues for formal consideration by council. They also ensure that councillors represent the interests of the whole municipality.
BALANCING COMMUNITY AND MUNICIPAL INTERESTS
Under Section 76B (b) of the Local Government Act 1989, a councillor is required to ‘…impartially exercise his or her responsibilities in the interests of the local community’. While this may be self-evident, in practice it’s far more complex.
The capacity of individual councillors to get particular local issues considered seriously by council is sometimes regarded by constituents as a measure of how effective that councillor is. Council processes should ideally include opportunities for elected members to raise issues. And this should be supported by the mayor.
Councillors should treat the interests of groups in the community, and the people who advocate those views, with respect. As democratically elected members, councillors must represent their constituents’ views regardless of their personal opinions or whether they’re likely to attract votes. This can sometimes mean that a councillor will convey the views of a group of constituents to the council, even when he or she does not support those views.
ROLE OF THE STRATEGIC PLANNING PROCESS
The strategic planning process is intended to bring together council and community interests in a coherent plan for the whole municipality. Ensuring that all councillors have had the opportunity to be involved in the process and voice their views will result in a stronger council plan. The plan will also then be more useful as a tool for setting priorities. For more information about the strategic planning process see Role of council.
Even if councillors are successful in representing their community’s issues in the planning process, they won’t always be supported by council. When this happens, councillors may have to explain to their constituency that while they supported a particular issue, the council, as the decision-making body, supported another.
Good planning and governance allows for the inevitable diversity of opinion in the municipality. Good governance provides opportunities for councillors to represent the interests of their constituents.
FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS OF DECISION MAKING
An important factor in decision making is that decisions have to be affordable and financially realistic. Council plans, strategic resource plans and annual budgets are the key tools which determine whether the proposal is both priority and is affordable. See Financial Governance for more information.