Sunday, September 14, 2014

And if you do win a seat, what then? What does an Alderman actually do?

First of all, there is no difference between an Alderman and a Councillor – the distinction is simply that one is elected to a city municipality, the other to a non-city municipality. 

And no, it’ not Alderwoman although having a woman in the role does tend to bend some people’s heads when our partners accompany us to receptions – just what do we call the Lord Mayor’s partner these days when a woman is elected to the role – somehow Lady Mayoress just doesn’t work when it’s a bloke.  Neither is it Counsellor.  That’s US for a legal eagle or someone good at psychotherapy.  Councillors help build community relationships, not fix marriages. 

And yes, each municipality is distinctive in its geography, people places and culture.  Yet there is a lot that each shares.  And one thing in common is what the elected members do in the community.  We represent you.  We’re the interface between local government as bureaucracy and local government as community.  Specifically, the Local Government Act 1993 states that:


28.Functions of councillors

(1) A councillor, in the capacity of an individual councillor, has the following functions:

(a) to represent the community;

(b) to act in the best interests of the community;

(c) to facilitate communication by the council with the community;

(d) to participate in the activities of the council;

(e) to undertake duties and responsibilities as authorised by the council.

(2) The councillors of a council collectively have the following functions:

(a) to develop and monitor the implementation of strategic plans and budgets;

(b) to determine and monitor the application of policies, plans and programs for –

(i) the efficient and effective provision of services and facilities; and

(ii) the efficient and effective management of assets; and

(iii) the fair and equitable treatment of employees of the council;

(c) to facilitate and encourage the planning and development of the municipal area in the best interests of the community;

(d) to appoint and monitor the performance of the general manager;

(e) to determine and review the council's resource allocation and expenditure activities;

(f) to monitor the manner in which services are provided by the council.

(3) In performing any function under this Act or any other Act, a councillor must not –

(a) direct or attempt to direct an employee of the council in relation to the discharge of the employee's duties; or

(b) perform any function of the mayor without the approval of the mayor.

(4) A councillor is to represent accurately the policies and decisions of the council in performing the functions of councillor.

And how do we achieve all that?  In all sorts of ways and meetings are a big part of it.  The newly elected people will find that one of the first decisions they’ll have to make is choosing what committees they’d like to be involved with. 

For anyone new who is standing, a hint: go and actually read the latest Annual Report of your Council, and then have a chat with a sitting elected member on how the Council works.  Once you are elected, your best friend is the General Manager.  Have a look at the Act again.  You’ll be surprised just how powerful the GM is compared the Mayor – a real reversal from the pre-1993 days!  

All elected members attend Council meetings.  Then there are committee meetings (for example, see or go to the website for your local council and hunt around for a similar web page) and lots of reading, digesting and cogitating and questioning of agendas and minutes.  And then we put our hands up for other committees – local area traffic meetings or working groups for particular projects.  In Hobart, Alderman are nominated to be Council’s representative on outside boards and organisations – for a taste of this see and download to see the range of committees Aldermen get involved with.

Fortunately today most of Council’s paperwork can be delivered via internal web pages and most Councils are able to do that.  We’re lucky that the norm across all tiers of government is now is for .pdf documentation, although a lot of folks still want the printed page for ease of reading.  It does make it easy to have web pages that list out the myriad bits of legislation that we have to be aware of.  First of all, the Local Government Act, and then the Local Government Meeting Regulations.  

Another hint to the new players: get the meeting regulations and learn them off by heart.  Some of the worst moments I’ve witnessed for newly elected people are when they’ve assumed they know the rules, and then find out they’ve made a complete hash of it and their reputations.  Local government works to its own rules.

That’s an awful lot of meetings, and that is just the start.  What about all those going on in the community?  It’s likely as a candidate for local government you’ve tilled the fertile voting soil by becoming involved in your local community through single issue groups or established charities or hall committees or bushcare/NRM groups or similar.  You’ll still be doing all that, as well as Council.  Life just becomes a lot more organised around the Council schedule.  Keeping a diary is a must, as missing meetings brings its own penalties.

You’ll see also from Section 28(1) that, on carefully reading what is there, and thinking about what is not there, that the function of an elected person is very broad.  So if you get elected as a party person, not only do you bring your own particular political philosophy into the room with you in representing a particular group of people, but you’ll find that you’ll have to take a broader consideration, in that you now represent the whole community.  And that whole community is made up of all sorts of ideas and philosophies and demands and needs and wants.

So what does an Alderman actually do? 

Sections 28 (2), (3), and (4) are pretty function specific.  There are a whole lot of other things that Aldermen/Councillors do and you’ll get to learn them on the job and through various induction programs, seminars and workshops. 

It’s Section 28(1) that, personally speaking, I feel matters the most in what an Alderman actually does. 

Nothing really prepares you for serving in local government.  It may appear that life will become a long series of meetings over the next four years, but in between, in the quiet moments before the next election is called in 2018, consider this.  If you think you acted in the best interests of the whole community, and kept the conversations going between the ratepayers and Council, as well as participated in activities that supported you, the Council and the community to get on, to make things better, then you’ve worked it out that an Alderman is the link in a series of events and conversations, in joining the dots and getting the people listening to each other and talking about what matters.  It’s a different style of leadership compared to State and Federal Government.  Being closer to the community, you can do a lot of good things in local government.


PS: As an example of what I put my hand up for on Hobart City Council, below is an extract from the Annual Report 2012-2013.  The Antarctic/Southern Ocean industry lobbying for goes through the Strategic Governance Committee as well as the relationship between Hobart and Launceston.  Being on all the local traffic management groups (the outcomes of which reported to the Infrastructure Service Committee) gave me an overview of traffic problems across the city. 

Committee Memberships:

Strategic Governance Committee (Chairman); Development and Environmental Services Committee; Finance and Corporate Services Committee; Heritage Account Special Committee; Infrastructure Services Committee


• City of Hobart Eisteddfod Society Inc. (proxy)

• Coming Out Proud – Greater Hobart Community Liaison Committee (proxy)

• Glebe Residents’ Traffic Committee

• Hobart Cenotaph Reference Group (proxy)

• Hobart City Council/Launceston City Council - Memorandum of Understanding Joint Working Party – from 27/8/2012

• Inner City Action Plan – Project AP01 – Trader Advisory Group (proxy)

• Lenah Valley Residents’ Traffic Committee

• Mt Stuart Residents’ Traffic Committee

• Sandy Bay Residents’ and Traders’ Traffic Committee

• South Hobart Residents’ Traffic Committee

• Southern Tasmanian Councils Authority (Lord Mayor’s nominee)

• Tasmanian Polar Network

• West Hobart Local Area Traffic Management Committee.


Authorised by Eva Ruzicka, 10 Congress Street, South Hobart.

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