Councillor Helen Ballentine was first elected to Yarriambiack Council in 2005 and was the 2009 Mayor. Re-elected in 2012 and 2016, Helen brings a wealth of experience and wisdom from her professional life and from working with council teams over her four terms.
Team work in local government is about achieving a good outcome for the whole council, it’s not about individual success. You are not there to be a hero, a councillor needs to focus on building civil and co-operative relationships with residents, councillors and staff.
It’s persistence, optimism and courage that will make you a valued councillor.
As a new councillor you will be determined to make your mark, to demonstrate that you were worth being elected, and to learn all you need to know. However avoid the temptation to make rash promises to constituents that you won’t be able to deliver.
The best decisions are those that have the backing of your team, and you will come to realise that this is always more beneficial to ratepayers and the council. In time you will learn to agree to disagree and see things as a business decision rather than a personal loss.
It may help to see yourself as a local government ‘diplomat.’ Get to know your fellow councillors from a business sense, understand what their interests are, where their strengths lie, and learn the guidelines. You spend a lot of time with people that you normally wouldn’t associate with and the best way to build relationships is through the council business. Take an interest in each other’s roles, reports and delegations, giving encouragement and recognition when it is due. You don’t have to go overboard, it could be a simple acknowledgment of the hours they have put into an issue.
Always be yourself and show respect for the other members of your team who have been democratically elected to council.
Remember that winning on an issue isn’t always your goal. If you are voted down, see this as opportunity to represent your ward and you will gain respect for presenting an issue you believe needs to change. If you have presented the evidence you need to support your argument and the result is a compromise, you have done your job.
Conflict is not a bad thing, as long as it doesn’t become personal or a pattern of disrespect for fellow councillors. A good team will learn to manage conflict internally. If not, the mayor may become involved or the issue may go to local mediation.
There are clear guidelines for dispute settlement in the Local Government Act under the Councillor Conduct section and councils code of conduct.
One thing I have learnt is that others don’t always share my perceptions or understand my ideas. It can come as a shock to have to spell out my intentions, goals and reasons. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming others will be on the same wavelength. All men are not the same, just as all women aren’t the same. We are all PEOPLE and should not discriminated by gender, age or ability.