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COUNCILLORS & CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER RELATIONSHIP

The relationship between the Chief Executive Officer and councillors includes formal roles and day-to-day working interactions. Both are important to good governance.

THE EMPLOYER-EMPLOYEE RELATIONSHIP

On the one hand, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is formally accountable to the council as its employee. Councillors, sitting as council, are therefore responsible for both employing the CEO and managing his/her performance. On the other hand, the CEO is a source of valuable support and assistance to councillors, particularly when there are issues in their wards.

While the formal relationship is very important, it is equally important for councillors and the CEO to create positive working relationships. They are generally in regular contact to share information, discuss issues and manage problems. As with the relationship between the mayor and CEO, there needs to be trust between both. And this trust should be based on good communication and an understanding of each others’ roles and functions.

MANAGING THE RELATIONSHIP

Employment

The council is responsible for employing and formally managing the performance of the CEO. As such, the CEO is formally accountable to council and therefore to the councillors.

During their terms, it is very likely that councils will either have to appoint a CEO or make a decision about renewing the CEO’s contract. And all councils will have to manage their CEO’s performance. This gives councillors considerable power and can put substantial pressure on those who haven’t necessarily had experience managing complex and high-level employment relationships.

Successful employment relationships are based on good recruitment processes, shared expectations and good performance management processes. If these have been well articulated and managed, the decision to renew a contract should be straightforward.

All relationships and particularly those between the CEO and councillors will be tested when a new council is elected and has to work with a CEO appointed by a previous council. There is sometimes a temptation for a council to want to appoint its own CEO. It shouldn’t matter, however, which council made the appointment. Good communication and performance management will ensure the CEO has a clear idea of councillors’ expectations and how they can and should be met. And that then is the CEO’s responsibility.

Performance management

The CEO is the only officer directly accountable to council and it is the only position that is appointed by councillors. As such, councillors are accountable for setting the CEO’s performance plan and monitoring performance. Most commonly this focuses on the CEO’s annual performance assessment.

In the past, problems have occurred when expectations have not been clearly articulated at the beginning of a CEO’s term. When this happens councillors may then feel that the CEO has not delivered what was expected and this can in turn lead to problems in the relationship.

As much time should be put into setting goals and expectations of the CEO as is usually put into the annual review of performance. If expectations are communicated and agreed, they’re more likely to be met.

Ongoing communication and feedback between the CEO and the council will help to ensure these problems don’t occur.

FACT

“Good communication helps develop a good working relationship between councillors and the CEO.”

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