Now you're a councillor

Now you're a councillor

A site for women councillors in Victorian local government

What it was like at first…

Sharon Ellis was first elected to the City of Whitehorse in 2003 and stood again in 2016, when she was re-elected for the fifth time.

The role of an elected Councillor is different to any other role you have undertaken.

Regardless of whether you have run a successful business, have post graduate qualifications or are the CEO of a “not-for -profit” organisation, the position of councillor will provide new challenges.  The many skills and life experience you have developed prior to your election will be invaluable in your journey as a councillor but you still have a lot to learn!  It is important that you give yourself the time to listen, ask questions and get to know the organisation with which you will be closely involved for the next four years.

A councillor’s role is nothing like a 9-5 weekday job. To do it effectively requires energy, flexibility and resilience.

You will be asked to attend functions and meetings on weekends and evening. The emails are constant and the reading material is vast. If you have a partner it is important that they are supportive and self-sufficient.

Get to know your fellow councillors –  their backgrounds, interests and areas of expertise.  Seek the advice of previously elected councillors – chances are they clearly remember their first months as a new councillor!  Accept and respect each councillor’s individuality and political perspectives – a diverse council provides a much stronger representation for your community. The strongest councils are those that pool all their resources, experiences and skills to ensure that they collectively represent their resident’s needs. Don’t forget that your municipality is comprised of a diverse range of people, interests and activities.

You will be invited to attend functions and events held by many community groups- some of which you have little knowledge or in some cases little interest. It is tempting to gravitate towards organisations with which you identify but you could miss a great opportunity to meet some interesting people or to broaden your knowledge. Occasionally you will be outside your “comfort zone” but that is part of the learning experience and will ultimately make you an effective councillor.

It is important to establish a respectful working relationship with council officers and to take advantage of their expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, respectfully challenge recommendations or seek further information. They are there to support you, so don’t be intimidated by their depth of knowledge.  As a councillor you have enormous responsibilities.  Annual budgets are sometimes in excess of $200 million and the municipal population could exceed 150, 000 residents. Your role is to provide good governance to the whole municipality on a wide range of issues – not just for your ward or for the constituents who may have elected you.

Never forget that you are part of the community you represent.  It can be challenging at times but it can also be an extremely rewarding experience.  After all, not many councillors choose to retire after one term!

Enjoy the journey!