ROLE OF THE MAYOR
The mayor is the leader of the council and has a number of roles which are both legislative and functional. The legislative requirements are outlined in Section 73 and 73AA of the Local Government Act 1989.
The Act states that the mayor not only takes precedence at all municipal proceedings within the municipality but must also take the chair at all meetings of the council at which he or she is present.
The LG Act states that the functions of the Mayor of a Council include:
- Providing guidance to Councillors about what is expected of a Councillor, including in relation to the role of a Councillor under section65, and the observation of the Councillor Conduct Principals and the Councillor Code of Conduct under section 76B, 76BA and 76C
- Acting as the principal spokesperson for the Council
- Supporting good working relations between Councillors
- Carrying out the civic and ceremonial duties of the Office of the Mayor
The mayor’s role, extends well beyond officiating at council meetings or other municipal proceedings and includes providing leadership, promoting positive relationships, and modelling good governance.
FUNCTIONAL POWERS OF THE MAYOR
The mayor is usually the council spokesperson on key issues (the CEO being spokesperson on operational matters) and the Mayor has a significant ceremonial role at particular events, including citizenship ceremonies.
The mayor is also an important community leader and is often the spokesperson for the community on economic issues (such as commenting on the impact of jobs lost or gained in the municipality) or when the community is put under stress (such as disaster management and socio-economic issues).
The mayor’s leadership role is different to that of a premier or prime minister. Because there is no formal government or opposition within the council, the mayor is not the formal leader of a majority party within the parliament. For more information about the structure of local government see What is local government?
While the mayor has been elected by at least a majority vote, the position becomes the leader of all the councillors whether they supported an individual or not. What this means is that the mayor has responsibilities towards, and is accountable to, all councillors. And the mayor’s leadership style should reflect this.
KEY GOVERNANCE ROLES
Chairing council meetings
The way in which the mayor chairs council meetings makes a significant contribution to good governance. A well-run meeting that is inclusive and has high standards of governance relies on the mayor’s approach to being chair. Mayors should have a good knowledge of meeting procedures and their council’s meetings local law.
Effective chairing also ensures that all councillors have the opportunity to be heard. While not every councillor can get his or her way on an issue, they are more likely to accept a decision if they feel that they have been included in the process. More often than not, this means that even controversial and difficult decisions are more ‘stickable’.
If the mayor takes sides in a council meeting and actively suppresses minority views, this will give dissenters the ammunition not only to attack the outcome, but also the process. The mayor should ensure that all councillors have had the opportunity to express their views, even if their proposals are defeated.
Group facilitation concepts such as participation, communication, involvement, consensus, mutual respect and listening are all important in promoting the success of the councillor group.
Promoting good relationships
Good relationships are the glue for good governance. Councillors particularly rely on the cooperation and support of colleagues and the administration to achieve their goals. This cooperation is based on good relationships, and an understanding and acceptance of each role.
It is a function of the Mayor under the Act to provide guidance to Councillors about what is expected of them in their role as a Councillor pursuant to the role set out in section 65 of the Act. The Mayor is also expected to provide guidance to Councillors in relation to conduct in observance of the Councillor Conduct Principals and the Council’s Councillor Code of Conduct. The Mayor is also charged with supporting good working relationships between Councillors.
The mayor is in an ideal position to foster positive relationships between the various elements of local government by setting a good example. This includes relationships between the mayor and councillors, council and the administration, and the mayor and Chief Executive Officer.
Managing and modelling good conduct
The mayor also has considerable influence in establishing standards of good governance behaviour and ethics.
As the leader of council, the mayor has an important formal role to play in promoting good conduct and managing poor conduct. In some Victorian local government councillor codes of conduct, the mayor has a role in the dispute resolution process.
It is critical that the mayor’s role in these proceedings is characterised by fairness, an appreciation of natural justice, and the awareness of being the leader of all councillors, not just those who are supporters.
All these roles require the mayor to have great skills and experience. As such, the mayor’s position should go to the councillor best suited to the role. It should not be a reward for long service or the result of ‘deals’ between councillors (for example, ‘I’ll support you this year, if you support me next year…’) or factional manoeuvring.
The Local Government Act does not deal with the election of a deputy mayor. Accordingly, councils may choose to appoint a deputy mayor if they believe this will assist their governance. The Act does not prescribe a role or permit a level of remuneration over and above that available to councillors.
For councils that have a deputy mayor, the position is in name only. Unlike the roles of deputy premier or prime minister, a deputy mayor is not able to automatically step into the role of mayor if this becomes necessary. An acting mayor must be appointed when the role is required and this does not have to be the deputy mayor.
There are arguments for and against having a deputy mayor and each council must make its own decision.