Councillor Ruth Gstrein, a former mayor of Corangamite Shire Council, was first elected in 2002 and has been successfully re-elected in every council election since. Ruth has a strong recall of what it was like in the first year of being a councillor.
During the campaign you have gone through a raft of experiences and emotions: the deliberation and decision about nomination; the anxiety and exhaustion of campaigning; the elation of being elected and now the apprehension, and no doubt enthusiasm, of the challenges that lie ahead.
To even consider putting up your hand for nomination is a big step. As an active member of the wider community you probably have been canvassed by a number of groups or individuals to take that step. Now that you have been elected as their representative on council, it is important to put the election process behind you and represent all interests in your ward – and the entire municipality – fairly.
Understand that you will be criticised. Not everybody will be happy with how you vote at the Council table. Take it on the chin and move on. Engaging in a social media spat over an issue, regardless of how big or how trivial, will distract you from your task – which is to continue to represent your constituents. All of them.
This can sometimes be a difficult task, with opposing groups lobbying for your support. Many groups are well organised and you may receive emails, phone calls and personal visits on controversial issues. In an issue that involves the wider community, you may have to actively seek alternative arguments. To gauge the opinions of the whole community, talk to individuals and local interest groups. Often, it is only the vocal minority that gets heard.
The voters have put their faith in your judgement and your ability to consider both sides of the issue and make a rational decision on their behalf.
Getting out into your ward is important. Not every ratepayer and resident is active on social media so it’s vital that you cater for all in your engagement and consultation. l regularly attend the local Progress Association meetings, which keeps me in touch with the business sector and equips me with accurate information on local issues and an opportunity to short circuit any mis-information that may be out there.
After election you may feel overwhelmed by the workload and tempted to sever ties with organisations you were previously involved in. If you must, reduce your involvement but try to stay in touch – these groups will be valuable information gathering sources in the future. On the other hand, don’t be tempted to rush out and join new groups, it’s important to keep a balance and manage your valuable time. Not to mention avoiding potential conflict of interests!! Now that my children are young adults l continue to umpire junior netball games and volunteer at the local football/netball club. – where a wealth of information and opinions are freely given!!
It is important to get outside of your comfort zone and look at all avenues where you can broaden your knowledge base of your Council. Remember that if you have been elected in a subdivided municipality you are now part of the Council that represents the entire municipality and should get to know the communities you now represent.
Older people have a wealth of knowledge and life experience and l value their input.
I work to sustain links with the older members of my community. Every few months l attend the senior citizens group and local Probus clubs. I sit in on their meetings, give them a run down on council news then have a cuppa. A monthly ‘Meals on Wheels’ run also puts me in touch with older people who use many of council’s aged services, but who often don’t get out of their homes or have the opportunity to participate in community debate.
Finally, it is important to be as accessible to your community as possible. Your trips to the supermarket or hardware store will now take twice as long! Be as open and honest as you can with people. After all, you are their voice on council. But most importantly – enjoy the experiences of the next four years.