Council: a role not for the faint hearted

Today marks the closure of nominations for the October council elections.  This will signal the release of the final names of those interested in standing for the nine positions who will set the direction for the City of Ballarat.

 The Ballarat Residents and Ratepayers Association in conjunction with the Committee for Ballarat have held several forums aimed at informing potential candidates just what the role involves.  Despite the difficulty of the task the intention was clear; these vital roles need to be filled with people of the highest capability and dedication to make council function as it should. Good intentions are not enough when the reality of being a councillor is such an onerous one.  Its privileges are few and its demands many.  The sheer volume of information alone that must be digested in order to carry out important decisions in an informed and rational manner almost excludes it from being a part-time preoccupation. Single-issue candidates will soon find their passion dissipated under the deluge of work and responsibility required.

If the significance of the recent code-of-conduct scare reveals anything it is the pressure of compliance for councillors both for governance and time deadlines can be enormous.  It should also be remembered as representative leaders, councillors must answer not only to the constituents (who may have clamoured for one thing) but also to the Local Government Act and the dictates of the best possible interests of Ballarat. A dedication to the community may not be enough.  And when these demands do not align it is the mark of real leadership to strike the balance and stick with it.

In addition to these pressures there is the reasonable but often constant scrutiny the role involves. Many people have found the level of analysis and debate at the local level of Government too exacting and too intense. The relative investment of any resident’s rates to their expectation of return of services from their council may seem unfair - especially by comparison to other levels of government. But the good in this is the very sense of ownership that the community level of government retains.

Unfortunately reasonable transparency and accountability to a public does not exclude the possibilities of this becoming personal and vindictive. So the last characteristic required may just be to combine that invaluable sense of empathy with a need to retain a thick skin.