When I decided to stand for council I wasn’t completely sure what it would be like. I want to share with you a bit of what the job is like.
I’ve been a Kingborough councillor for nearly three years. Local government is different from state or federal politics; there is no government and no opposition in local government. The councillors on Kingborough Council have to cooperate. I can’t make anything happen if there aren’t other councillors to vote with me. Things don’t always go my way, of course; every decisions belongs to the whole council.
Most councillors don’t do this job full time. Some are retired; some, like me, have another job; others have caring responsibilities or do volunteer work. I don’t have staff that I can direct to research a policy or write a speech, I’m not provided with an office to work from. As a councillor there’s very little support available. I can only do this job with the help of the other councillors and of the council staff. If I start to treat the other councillors and the council officers as the enemy then I’ve missed the point; I’m part of the council.
Before each council meeting I receive the agenda, typically 200 to 300 pages. There might be development applications; tenders for civil works; a policy, say on weed control; and a sporting club wanting to build on council land. It’s my job to sift the facts and compare them to how Kingborough people want their place to be. I need to understand expert advice from staff, listen to the other councillors, add my opinion to the debate and help come to the best decision. To be an effective councillor I have to be involved in a broad range of issues. It doesn’t work if I have a few pet projects and don’t care about the rest.
So how do I ‘achieve’ anything on council? Part of my job is bringing ideas and responding to ideas. Ideas that I bring to council come from listening to friends and strangers, from reading what’s been tried in other places, from looking where we are and hearing where people would like us to be.
Of course, I don’t know everyone in Kingborough, no councillor does. That’s why there are ten of us. Hopefully that’s enough diversity that between us we represent all our community; and you get to chose us by voting us in.
I can’t do this job without you. Please phone, email or stop me in the street if you want to talk about council business or there’s something you think your council is doing well or badly.
Finally, the next council election is in 2018. If you’d like to know more about the job because you’re thinking of standing for council then I’m happy to share what my experience has been so far.
Richard Atkinson firstname.lastname@example.org 0408 411 941.
[Also published in the Kingborough Chronicle 25 July 2017. kingboroughchronicle.com.au]