6 Months in – Time to dispel some myths about being a Councillor..

This blog will be of a personal nature today.

I am finding I am being asked a lot of the same questions about what’s involved and what am I provided with as a local Councillor.

It’s 6 months down the track since I’ve been elected, below is a photo of our “inauguration” with most of our current councillors present for that occasion at Council. 

Looking at the photo now I am wondering whether I missed the dress code which must’ve said “wear something stripey” as I’m the one wearing a red/orange top.

group photo
Our first Council group photo

 

One of the questions asked is do you get an office?

No, we don’t get an office, you are expected to work from home though there is a Councillors Lounge area that has a PC and printer if you need it. We are provided with a mobile phone, an ipad and a printer at home as well as a filing cabinet and if you wish a bookcase as well. This is for use for Council work for the 4 years you are elected and then you must hand it back.

Another question is do you get a secretary?

No, though there are some very wonderful and hard-working ladies that work in the mayors office full time & part time who coordinate some of the many invitations that councillors are asked to attend. They are juggling the many phone calls, mail, faxes, emails from the public, emails from other staff, emails from us Councillors asking questions as well as people (the staff and the public) who drop in to the office to ask questions as well.

Their task is a difficult one that they make look easy  however they are in the firing line when something happens locally that upsets people. I think they handle the job very well with poise and a smile but I wonder sometimes what they do for stress relief as some days it seems overwhelmingly busy in there!
They are there mainly to handle to Mayors appointments, correspondence and schedule as it is a demanding role.

You do have to learn to manage your time well.

Which leads me to the next question..Is it a full time or part time job?

Many of us Councillors laughingly say “it’s a part time job with full time hours!”

Everyone tries to manage their time the best they can to accommodate the role.
Some councillors work full time & juggle their councillor commitments around their job. Other work part time or like myself run their own businesses. It’s not easy.

It is a time management skill of not letting yourself burnout either as you have to last the 4 year commitment hence Council recently had us trained in meditation techniques to handle the stress.

As well as a public Council meeting held once a month where the public see us vote on issues, there are briefings on many topics that need input or updates on what is happening, these sometimes are weekly. Councillors can decide whether to attend these or not however it is the time to ask lots of questions from staff and get more information to help you make a decision.
Many of these briefings cover at least 6-8 topics and they can be large and diverse.

Mermaid pools
Mermaid Pools near Manly Dam

Then there are the committees that Councillors can be part of voluntarily, usually with members of the public representing separate interest groups. These can range from The Stoney Range Botanical Gardens to the Companion Animals Act. to specific lagoons and playing fields.
There are the civic ceremonies that are a delight to be part of; the citizenship ceremonies held monthly, thank yous to volunteering groups, acknowledgements of festivities ie: Carers Week, Seniors Week, Youth Week, Environmental Days where you see the smiles on everyone’s faces.
Many of my weekends are spent at local events or community groups celebrating occasions with them and honouring their passion for their community.

So I would say a minimum week for me would be at least 30 hours….quite often a lot more and luckily enough for me I am already used to being busy and juggling a few roles at once. We also get copious amounts of reading material, documents ranging from 150-250 pages long via our iPads for which I am grateful that I completed a Quantum Reading course with one of our Women in Business graduates a couple of year back.

Each Wednesday afternoon we have a black satchel delivered to our homes with mail that we may not have collected during the week which can include letters from the public, invitations, petitions etc.

The Tradition of a March Past at Palm Beach Surf Club
The Tradition of a March Past at Palm Beach Surf Club

 

We can also attend conferences if we choose to, last year some of us attended the Local Government Association Conference hosted by Dubbo Council to hear from councils across the State. We were updated on the experiences of other Councils in other States who had experienced Council amalgamations.  It was interesting to hear their views and of course learn more about our fellow councillors, General Managers & Mayors from Manly, Pittwater, Mosman & Willoughby that we got to know well. Councillors choose which conferences they wish to attend.

Dubbo Art Gallery and Museum
Dubbo Art Gallery and Museum

And the final question I get asked a lot…. Does the role pay well?

(Insert laughter here) The blunt answer is no, each Council determines what their Councillors are paid.

Our stipend is approximately $1800 per month plus travel expenses and out of pocket expenses.

That equates to a maximum of $15.00 per hour or less for my time.

I love how some people in the public love reminding me that they pay for my wage, inferring that they practically own me!

pay packet

Well buddy, for $15.00 per hour you are getting an absolute bargain as it is below the minimum wage for an adult cleaner in NSW so maybe I should be applying for a cleaners position on Council to increase my fee?

It’s fascinating work in that you can at one moment be working on a very high strategic level for the future and the next be taking a phone call from a resident concerned about their neighbour. It certainly keeps you on your toes as you never know from one day to the next what is going to be presented to you next.

You do get moments of absolute joy, like this morning where my first phone call of the day on my Council phone was from a very happy resident thanking me for resolving an issue so fast to moments of sadness when you listen to people who have very sad issues to contend with.

The moral to this story is, be nice to your Councillors.
They aren’t doing it for the pay that’s for sure but because they care about your community.

And don’t forget your Councillors have homes and families to be part of, I suspect it is the support of their friends and families that keep them sane!

 

 

2 Responses to 6 Months in – Time to dispel some myths about being a Councillor..

  1. So typical Sue of what I hear from Councillors across metro Sydney over the years. And it’s the ‘newbies’ like yourself who tell it like it REALLY is!

    Stay a newbie if you can, for the next 3 years and 10 months or so! 🙂

    • Thanks Trevor!
      I will certainly try and maybe it is easier these days thanks to Social Media as I keep many updated with my movements including the joys and some of the more challenging times.
      I also get much more feedback from Social Media than from emails, phone calls etc. as I am so used to that way of communicating. I hope I can stay “fresh & new” for the next 3 1/2 years!