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LEADING DEBATE FROM THE COUNCIL CHAIR

ISSUE

A mayor who runs the council meeting in a way that favours the adoption of a particular recommendation undermines good decision-making processes.

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SCENARIO

David, who is mayor of a suburban 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. David provides extra time for those arguing in favour, while restricting those arguing against to the precise time limit set out in the local law. He comments unfavourably on every speech which argues against the recommendation, and also takes the opportunity to make a speech in its favour from the chair.

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WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

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 also think the mayor is not being impartial which can undermine confidence in the council.

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HOW TO TACKLE THIS 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
  • the mayor should be impartial and fair in managing the meeting, allowing all councillors to have the same opportunity to present their views
  • if the mayor chooses to participate in the debate, they should make it clear that they are speaking in their capacity as councillor, and not as mayor of the council
  • if the mayor is required to use a casting vote, they should be aware that they are voting in a different capacity (this time as leader of the council) and should therefore consider the customs associated with the use of the casting vote (the mayor’s casting vote need not be the same as their collaborative vote).

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