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COUNCILLOR & OFFICER RELATIONSHIP BREAKDOWN

ISSUE

A divisive and dysfunctional relationship between councillors and council officers can seriously affect the operation of local government.

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SCENARIO

Communication between councillors and council officers has completely broken down in a large suburban council. Councillors regularly make inflammatory statements to the local media claiming that they have no power because council officers are really making all decisions.

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WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

If councillors and the administration don’t understand each other’s roles or the processes for making decisions, this can lead to serious misunderstandings and dysfunctional relationships. When this happens the relationship is characterised by public criticism of each other and a general lack of respect.

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HOW TO TACKLE THIS SITUATION

  • the mayor and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) must work together to provide leadership, as well as model respect for the administration and elected members
  • expectations need to be clarified to avoid bad feelings – councillors and senior management need to discuss the issues and how they can be addressed
  • roles need to be reviewed, redefined and understood by all – everyone should be given the opportunity to contribute on aspects that affect their role
  • the quality of advice, systems and processes – particularly on the hot issues – should be reviewed
  • protocols should be developed to handle criticism – public outbursts should not be tolerated and all sides need to be open to constructive feedback
  • the CEO should ensure that the administration’s culture supports democratic governance – this involves leadership from senior management and training for staff
  • the mayor and CEO need to ensure that councillors understand what can reasonably be expected from the administration and how contact can be made (protocols can help)
  • local government associations should be contacted for assistance if a serious breakdown occurs.

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