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SPLIT VOTING ON KEY COUNCIL DECISIONS

ISSUE

Consistently split votes on key council decisions can leave the ‘losing’ councillors feeling powerless and alienated.

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SCENARIO

An inner urban council has seven councillors. Four are pro-development and three are pro-environment. All major decisions are made on a 4:3 vote reflecting these divisions. The environmentalists feel like they have no power and have started to become publicly critical of the council’s processes and decisions. As a result council’s reputation is suffering.

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WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

When there’s a pattern of split or close votes on key issues, the councillors on the ‘losing’ side start to feel alienated and powerless. It can be very frustrating for councillors if they believe their opinions have not being taken into consideration in the decision-making process. It can also mean that diversity of community views are not being fully represented by council. Decision making simply becomes a numbers game which is not good for the municipality in the long run.

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HOW TO TACKLE THIS SITUATION

  • the mayor and councillors need to find ways to bring the ‘losing’ councillors back into the governance loop
  • the mayor, who may be on the ‘winning’ side, needs to actively engage with the minority councillors, both within and outside the council chamber
  • part of the mayor’s role is to ensure that debate and decision making is open and inclusive
  • part of the Chief Executive Officer’s role is to ensure that information and advice takes into account all councillors, not just the group which appears to have the numbers
  • the council plan and other important strategic documents should be reviewed to see if there is a basis for the majority and minority views – the council plan should ideally reflect the diversity of community views.

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