Councillor Jacinta Ermacoora, of Warrnambool City Council and former mayor, believes that local government presents a different challenge for every councillor and it’s very different for women.
“In sitting at the council table at the City of Warrnambool for the last eight years, I know that I’m very likely to be the only councillor who has cooked dinner that night.
In the early days it was a tough balancing act, I was trying to get my head around ‘what is this business called local government?’
Most councillors also want to be active with their families and friends and that’s difficult. There is a lot less time to be with friends, especially if your office is in your home and you are the mayor. You leave friends sitting around the table enjoying a cuppa and you are racing out the door.
Local government can also be emotionally taxing. When you come home and talk about what’s been happening, the family takes it on board. My husband doesn’t like to see me come home at times tired and stressed. Council can have an impact on the entire family.
When I was first elected in 2004 I didn’t realise that I’d be the equivalent of a board director for a range of services that are very diverse. For example, Warrnambool has a sea port, an airport, sale yards, a theatre, childcare and kinder services, caravan parks and tourism. And that’s after the traditional role of roads, rates and rubbish!
If you don’t focus on what you want to do and what you will support, you can find yourself being a bit overwhelmed, being all things to everybody. You need to remember what it is you stood for and go back to basics. I’ve pretty much been able to deliver 90 percent of what I promised.
A big part of that is I don’t promise what I can’t deliver. You need to appreciate you can’t keep everyone happy and that’s a good life lesson to learn.
You can sometimes feel very burdened by the new role and the new status within the community. The questions go around in your head “who will I be as a councillor” and” how will I do this job”? The answer is to be yourself, because people elected you for who you are – not someone you might become.
What I know is that council takes up way more time than you think. If you think it a task will take 15 hours it will be 30 hours, for there will be meetings, reading, talking and dealing with the media. If you are pushing something you believe in, it takes a lot of time.
Local government is not for everyone, but I would recommend it. Now I’ve got a thicker skin, a public profile and skills that allow me to engage with the community and groups I might not have had anything to do with.”