The ABCs of a Municipal Council


“A” is for Accountability: An effective Council takes full accountability for its actions whether positive or negative; an ineffective Council blames others for its mistakes, tries to cover up its errors and works harder to save its public face than to get the work of the municipality done.

“B” is for Budget: An effective Council builds fundamental skills in financial management and becomes expert at managing the municipality’s funds; an ineffective Council depends on staff for understanding all things financial and accepts the risk of being in error, because they will always have someone to blame.

“C” is for Communications: An effective Council communicates clearly with its citizenry and stakeholders; with an ineffective Council, citizens and stakeholders are never clear on what the message is from their municipal government on any given issue.

“D” is for Discipline: An effective Council behaves correctly in all circumstances and responds positively to those who might question its behaviour; an ineffective Council does not follow a consistent code of disciplined conduct in its dealing with the community and may even attack those who question its behaviour.

“E” is for Energy: An effective Council demonstrates energy and passion in representing the community; an ineffective Council only makes itself visible for ribbon cutting and for taking credit, often for the deeds of others.

“F” is for Facts: An effective Council seeks to ensure that its actions are evidence-based, i.e. based on verifiable facts; an ineffective Council operates and makes decisions by innuendo, hearsay or wrong information.

“G” is for Governance: An effective Council knows and practices clear and up-to-date governance processes; an ineffective Council makes up rules as it goes along to suit the personal agendas of its members.

“H” is for History and Heritage: An effective Council uses the history of its community and its heritage as a driving force for moving into a prosperous future; an ineffective Council works only in the here and now and does not consider its past as a necessary part of its present and future.

“I” is for Issues: An effective Council reserves time to review, discuss and resolve upcoming issues facing the community; an ineffective Council is blind to emerging issues and therefore gets blind-sided when such issues emerge.

“J” is for Journal: The members of an effective Council each keep a Journal of observations, ideas and concerns brought forward by their constituents to inform their individual decision making; members of an ineffective Council operate strictly from memory.

“K” is for Knowledge: An effective Council documents itself fully on the broader spectrum of social and economic trends facing the community locally, provincially and nationally; an ineffective Council makes decisions in a vacuum and without reference to any broader social picture.

“L” is for Leadership: An effective Council provides strategic leadership to staff members, whose role is to manage operations; an ineffective Council follows the strategic directions provided by staff without questioning their accuracy or source.

“M” is for Management: An effective Council ensures that there are skills-based management practices by which to manage Municipal services; an ineffective Council does not understand the need for management practices and the requirement for the most appropriate staff members to be in place to provide them.

“N” is for Neutrality: An effective Council is objective in balancing the competing needs of municipal stakeholders; an ineffective Council favours some pressure groups and opinions over others in the municipality

“O” is for Opinion: An effective Council is sensitive to the opinions of its constituents and seeks actively to consult and engage with community stakeholders; an ineffective Council depends only on official Municipal meetings and deputations to gather information on the pulse of the community.

“P” is for Process: An effective Council operates from a proven set of processes to guide their activity; an ineffective Council does not understand process as a series of organized steps to get to a result, and therefore is unable to get the result, even if it wanted to.

“Q” is for Questioning: An effective Council is constantly posing the question: “What will make our municipality a better place to live in?”, as the basis for managing change; an ineffective Council is too busy playing petty politics to consider the changing needs of the community and the requirement to manage the transformation process.

“R” is for Relationships: An effective Council prides itself in the quality of its interpersonal relationships with all stakeholders; an ineffective Council demonstrates a significant lack of skill when it comes to managing relationships and often sets people up for conflict.

“S” is for Strategy: An effective Council establishes the necessary Strategic Plan that drives change in the municipality; an ineffective Council rubber stamps the same strategy repeatedly without getting anything done.

“T” is for Transparency: An effective Council works transparently in making its decisions; an ineffective Council works behind closed doors and only gives the appearance of being open and objective.

“U” is for Unity: An effective Council seeks to establish unity among differing stakeholders in the community; an ineffective Council is content with letting competing parties fight among themselves.

“V” is for Values: An effective Council operates from a set of stated and operating values that are part and parcel of the Municipality’s way of doing things; an ineffective Council, if it has stated values, treats them only as a poster on the wall to be ignored when making decisions.

“W” is for Welfare: An effective Council is constantly concerned with the welfare of the smallest member of the community as a necessary part of the municipal fabric; an ineffective Council discounts and disregards those who are not part of the power elite of the community.

“X” is for Xenophobic: An effective Council welcomes ideas from all sources, including looking for best practices wherever they can be found; an ineffective Council feels threatened by ideas coming from outside its tight group and treats change as the enemy.

“Y” is for Yes: The default response of an effective Council is Can-do: “Yes, we can do that”; the default response of an ineffective Council is: “No, we can’t”: or they will provide any number of reasons not to be involved or take action.

“Z” is for Zero-base: An effective Council periodically stops everything it and staff are doing and goes back to zero, asking, “What is going well?” and “What changes are needed?”, before moving on with necessary changes; an ineffective Council never reviews what it is doing or how it is doing it or if it does, makes no changes and goes on repeating the same mistakes, year after year.


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