A couple of months ago, CEO Garry Poole asked me to addressed prospective first-term Councillors but I was not able to make the meeting. The intention was to share my experience as a first-term Councillor.
So I thought I'd write a post instead. Here are a few tips:
1. If you have never been in Council chambers more than just a few times to observe open meetings or submission processes, then you have no idea what you might be getting yourself into.
2. I put my name forward for Council with a firm belief that I can and I will change things. I quickly learnt how disillusioned I was. If you have put your name forward with the same intention, you are in for a big disappointment too. Remember, you are only 1 out of 11 votes and there are far too many Councillors who say no to pretty much everything.
3. You can change things, just in very small steps at a time and you most likely, will not make any major changes and most certainly, not in a term. Change is an extremely slow process in local government.
4. You will not run the city. Your job is to make policies and at least 5 others must agree with you for the policy to go through. Running the city is the CEO and Council staff's job and they will do it according to how they interpret the policy you have set. The reality is, it may not be interpreted in the way that it was meant. Even though the CEO and Council staff are ultimately answerable to Elected Members, you will have no right to say how they should do their jobs.
5. People who say that a Councillor's job is a part-time job are talking about those who fulfill the minimum required to justify their positions and salaries. Assuming that you genuinely want to make a difference, the elected position is a full-time job.
6. Having said point 4, I have had to cut back on over half my speaking engagements (which was less than 0.3 FTE) as a result of my Council appointment. If you have a full-time job (1.0 FTE), you will have to quit. If you own a business that cannot run without you, you would have landed yourself in some pretty deep water.
7. If you quit your job for Council, bear in mind that in the event you are not re-elected for a second term, you will be essentially out of a job.
8. Very little is ever achieved in Council meetings. If you genuinely want to make a difference to the ratepayers who really are the people you are supposed to represent, put your hand up for the taskforces and sub-committees where the real work is done. Currently only a few Councillors do a lot of that.
9. You may spend weeks, months or even your whole term working on an issue within a sub-committee or taskforce but all of that can be wiped off in one short meeting in full Council by your colleagues who were never a part of the process.
10. Council is a very political place and everything is governed by policies, resolutions and by-laws set by past and current Councils. I expect those of you who failed to even abide by the rules governing the local body elections to be in for a big shock when you realise how much your hands are tied by those policies, resolutions and by-laws.
11. Council staff may not provide you with all the information but you won't necessarily know that. You are expected to make the best decision based on incomplete information.
12. When you have made the decision you believe is best, there are ratepayers out there who will disagree and even call you names in the press and social media because your decision is not in their favour. Most of them have no idea, no different from some of you now. They will probably remain fairly ignorant and continue their war against you. You however, will not...remain ignorant, that is.
13. As if point 12 isn't hard enough, the press might make tomorrow headlines with something you said. But they usually print less than 20% of what you really said, often taking your words out of context and therefore, attracting even more criticism against you.
14. If/when you put your name forward for re-election, it is an extremely different experience, you will feel like you have a lot more to lose and you are more likely to be taken out by some of those who have been your "friendly" colleagues for the past 3 years. You have been warned. You are also more likely to be challenged by community groups and individual ratepayers especially those mentioned in point 12.
15. You may wonder during your term if you were made to be a politician. Referring back to point 12, community groups will challenge you to go against your vote/position on issues brought forward during your term as Councillor. This is when you will truly discover for yourself if you are made to be a politician.
16. Being in Council is nothing like being employed in a regular job and assuming the role of a Councillor is not like being a business owner. Not even by a long shot.
17. Get frustrated, go home, whinge to your husband / wife / partner but stay patient and come back for another day of the same.
18. Be very very thick-skinned.