menu top

Council decision making

Primary responsibility for making decisions rests with the elected members as a group – the council. Councils may also delegate some decision-making responsibility, for example to committees, staff, and other authorised persons.

The Local Government Act 1999 provides for decisions to be made at council meetings, by committees and subsidiaries of councils, by the Chief Executive Officer specifically in relation to staffing matters, and by council staff – and other authorised people – through delegated powers from council.

The Development Act 1993 assigns statutory and regulatory responsibilities to councils, including Development Assessment Panel for the purpose of making decisions on development applications..

Frequently asked questions about how councils make decisions:

  1. How are council decisions made in council meetings?
  2. How do committees and subsidiaries contribute to council decision making processes?
  3. How does the Chief Executive Officer contribute to decision making?
  4. How are other council officers involved in council decisions?
  5. What part do Development Assessment Panels have in council decisions?
  6. What delegations and powers are set out in other legislation?
  7. How can members of the public apply to address council in a deputation?

1) How are council decisions made in council meetings?

Councils determine policy and make other decisions at council meetings on an ongoing basis. Policies and budgets endorsed by the council provide a framework for the provision of services and programs and for day-to-day operational decision-making. Provided a quorum is present, a decision is made by the votes of the majority of those councillors present at a meeting.

  • A popularly-elected Mayor does not have a deliberative vote at council meetings but has a casting vote if there is a tied vote.
  • A Chairperson (or a Mayor who is elected by fellow councillors) has a deliberative vote, but no casting vote.

Individual elected members cannot make decisions nor give orders to staff. Their key role is to concentrate on policy as a group leaving day-to-day administration matters to staff.

Top

2) How do committees and subsidiaries contribute to council decision making processes?

Under sections 41 to 43 of the Local Government Act, councils can set up committees, subsidiaries and regional and subsidiaries to perform most of their powers and functions.

  • Committees and subsidiaries can include or consist of people from outside councils.
  • Committees are not separate legal entities and are subject to the same rules of public access to meetings as councils.
  • Subsidiaries are separate legal entities, like corporations, and can use different rules for public access to meetings. A council is ultimately liable for the debts of a subsidiary.
  • Two or more councils can jointly set up a regional subsidiary.

Both committees and subsidiaries are subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1991 and members are subject to the same conflict of interest rules as elected members. Read more about standards of behaviour expected from councillors...

Top

3) How does a council Chief Executive Officer contribute to decision making?

The CEO has sole responsibility for staff matters but must consult with council on changes in organisational structure. The CEO is generally accountable to council for staffing decisions and staffing matters through performance reviews under the terms of the employment contract.

Top

4) How are other council officers involved in council decisions?

Under section 44 of the Local Government Act, councils can delegate power to make most decisions, except for certain major decisions such as making by-laws, declaring rates, borrowing money, setting budgets and seeking approvals from the Minister. The use of delegated authority enables many routine matters to be dealt with promptly and efficiently.

  • Delegation of authority is made at a council meeting by resolution, and is subject to the terms and conditions determined by the council or specified by Regulation.
  • A delegation can be made to staff, authorised persons, committees and subcommittees or to a subsidiary. 
  • A council may revoke a delegation or act itself in relation to any matter that would normally be acted upon under delegation.

The CEO may also delegate, or sub-delegate, powers or functions vested to the CEO by the Local Government Act 1999. A record of council delegations is available from each council.

Top

5) What part do Development Assessment Panels have in council decisions?

Development Assessment Panels are separate bodies that all councils are required to establish under the Development Act 1993. Councils decide what, if any, development applications will be considered and determined by the Panel. In practice, these Panels usually consider only a small proportion of all development applications. Most development applications for complying development, are dealt with by council staff, relying on powers delegated to them by the council.

Decisions made by either council staff, or by Development Assessment Panels are made in accordance with the Development Act 1993, the Development Regulations 2008 and the Development Plan for the area. The rules applying to public access to meetings and documents, and to conflict of interest, are set out in the Development Act, and are different to the provisions of the Local Government Act.

The Freedom of Information Act 1991 applies to documents of a Development Assessment Panel.

6) What delegations and powers are set out in other legislation?

Councils and council officers also have power to make decisions under other Acts. For example:

  • Dog and Cat Management Act (SA) 1995
  • Public and Environmental Health Act (SA) 1987
  • Environment Protection Act (SA) 1993
  • Food Act (SA) 2001
  • Fire and Emergency Services Act (SA) 2005
  • Road Traffic Act 1961

The authority to make a particular decision may be granted either to the council or to a specific authorised officer. If the power is granted to an authorised officer, then the decision is for the officer alone to make, and the decision is not subject to the direction of council. If the power to make a decision is granted to the council, then the Act that grants the power may permit the decision-making power to be delegated.

Appeal mechanisms are set out in the Development Act. Read more about complaint and review mechanisms...

Enquiries about Development Act matters should be directed to the Department of Planning and Local Government.

7) How can members of the public apply to address council in a deputation?

A deputation is one or more people permitted to represent a group before council or a committee. Deputations are used to raise a particular issue or concern, or to voice a view on behalf of a particular group.

If you want to make a deputation to council or a committee, regulations require you to request the council – in writing at the council’s principal office – to allow a deputation.

The Chief Executive Officer will notify you of the outcome of your request as soon as reasonably possible.

The presiding member of the committee or council makes the initial decision. If that member refuses the deputation, the decision must be reported to the next meeting of the committee or council, and the committee or council can decide to hear the deputation. A council is also able to refer a deputation to a committee.

These rules may not apply in some circumstances, such as where council or a committee or a development panel is deciding a development application under the Development Act.

These rules are found in regulation 12 of the Local Government (Procedures at Meetings) Regulations 2000. These regulations can be accessed, along with other SA Acts and Regulations, from South Australian Legislation website.

Top