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Fostering optimal relationships in a council

Image: Panel at the VLGA FastTrack event

With a rise in public reports of breakdowns in the relationship between councillors and the administration, the VLGA FastTrack Leadership program held on Friday 1 March presented a timely opportunity to explore these challenges and identify what contributes to an effective relationship.

In a session attended by 20 mayors and deputy mayors, David Wolf facilitated a panel of experienced council CEOs and a sector executive recruitment expert that examined how councillors and the administration can work collectively for their municipality.

The panel discussion and question and answer session produced several themes of what can foster an optimal relationship. Some of these included:

  • Respect – the best environments have two-way respect and create a place where people want to work.
  • Information flow – ensuring that councillors are furnished with the information they need to make sound judgements/decisions and perform their legislated duties and functions.
  • Responsiveness – it is equally important that information is provided and decisions are implemented without undue delay. When there are delays or requests are denied, councillors should be given swift and clear advice about the reasons.
  • Structure – having a documented structure and process around the way information is requested by and provided to councillors. Setting clear ground rules for both parties not only promotes equity and transparency, but also protects the individuals involved.
  • Reputation – when both parties are focussed on delivering good strategic outcomes for the municipality and enhancing council's reputation as an effective entity — not on building individual professional or political profiles.

VLGA President Kathryn Arndt said: “The panel discussion and subsequent question and answer session brought out some interesting points on successful working relationships between councillors and the administration. This supported our view that those robust relationships, built on mutual trust and respect, are vital to the effective delivery of services and reputation of councils. The VLGA is committed to the ongoing optimal governance of councils and looks forward to partnering with our stakeholders including the Local Government Inspectorate in undertaking this important work for the benefit of the community”.