Role of Councillors
The role of elected councillors, as part of the governing body of a council, is spelled out in section 59 of the Local Government Act. It is to:
Take an active part in reviewing matters before their council and debating issues and in councils’ decision making processes;
Review councils’ objectives and policies to ensure that they are appropriate for the local area; and to
Review councils’ resource allocation, expenditure and activities, and the efficiency and effectiveness of its service delivery.
Councillors play a very important policy-making role, requiring the identification of community needs, setting objectives to meet those needs, establishing priorities between competing demands and allocating resources.
The policy framework and the strategic management plans endorsed by councils provide the direction for the ongoing management and operation of council activities.
The implementation of the plans and ongoing management and administration of council affairs is the responsibility of the Chief Executive Officer and staff. A councillor has no direct authority over an employee of council and no role in employing staff, except for employment of the Chief Executive Officer.
Councillors can make decisions and act only through a majority vote decision of the council or committee. An individual councillor does not have the authority to act or make any decision, on behalf of the council, unless the council has delegated such authority to the councillor. For example, a council may delegate to the Mayor the authority to sign a particular contract on behalf of the council.
The role of a councillor as an individual elected member is to represent the interests of residents and ratepayers. This role requires a councillor to provide community leadership and guidance, and to facilitate communication between the community and the council. It is therefore expected that each councillor will:
Attend council meetings (If a councillor is absent without leave for more than three consecutive meetings over more than 3 months, council is able to declare that seat vacant); and
Read and consider the agenda and reports before council meetings to be ready to constructively take part in council debate.
All councillors present at a council meeting (other than the Mayor) must vote on every motion and amendment for decisions, unless the conflict of interest provisions apply. A councillor cannot abstain from voting. A popularly-elected Mayor does not have a deliberative vote, but does have a casting vote if otherwise a decision is tied with equal numbers of councillors for and against it. A chairperson (or a Mayor elected by fellow councillors) however, votes at the same time as other Council members, and has a deliberative vote but no casting vote.
1) What standards of behaviour can I expect of Councillors?
2) What Council information do Councillors have access to?
3) What do I do if I have a complaint about a Councillor?
4) Are Councillors paid for the work they do?
Councillors have a wide range of responsibilities including community leadership, representing electors and making decisions about community resources.
Under section 62 of the Local Government Act, councillors have a duty to act honestly and with reasonable care and diligence in undertaking their role and council business. A councillor must not make improper use of the office of councillor or of information obtained through council to gain an advantage for themselves or anyone else, or to cause damage to their council.
Improper use of information or position is a criminal offence under both the Local Government Act 1999 and the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 with a possible penalty of up to seven years prison.
Complaints of a breach of this general duty should be made to the Minister for State/Local Government Relations or the Anti-Corruption Branch of the SA Police. Complaints can also be made under the Whistleblowers Protection Act 1993, which requires the identity of the complainant to be kept confidential unless it must be disclosed for the purpose of the investigation. Read more about complaints, grievances and review mechanisms...
There are also specific provisions relating to conflict of interest, registers of interests, codes of conduct, and election campaign donations, as follows.
Conflict of Interest
Under section 74 of the Local Government Act, if a councillor has a private interest in a matter before council or a Committee, the councillor is required to declare the interest and leave the meeting while the matter is debated and voted upon.
Breach of the conflict of interest provisions can attract a fine of up to $5,000 and disqualification as a member for up to five years.
Complaints about a potential breach of these provisions should be made to the Minister for State/Local Government Relations. Complaints can be made under the Whistleblowers Protection Act 1992 to protect the complainant's identity. Read more about complaints, grievances and review mechanisms...
Note: Development Assessment Panels are governed by different rules under the Development Act 1993 and a different penalty structure.
Register of Interests
Under sections 65 and 66 of the Local Government Act, a councillor must register a list of his or her financial interests with council every year. The Register of Interests is open for public inspection or purchase on written application to the Chief Executive Officer.
If a councillor fails to lodge an annual return within three months of the end of the financial year, that councillor's office automatically becomes vacant, although an application may be made to the District Court within another month for re-instatement.
Code of conduct
Under section 63 of the Act, each council must adopt a code of conduct for its members and review the code within 12 months after each general election of the council. The code must be available for on the council's website and also available for inspection and purchase at the council office. Read more about complaints, grievances and review mechanisms...
Complaints of breaches of the code should be made to the council. The main sanctions for a breach of the code of conduct are a public reprimand by the council or loss of privileges.
Complaints that a Councillor has breached the code of conduct should be made to the Chief Executive Officer in the first instance.
Under section 80 of the Local Government (Elections) Act 1999, each elected councillor (and all candidates for election to a council) must complete a campaign donations return within 30 days after the conclusion of election. The return must list all gifts of $500 or more, and must also be made available for public inspection and/or purchase at the council office.
Councillors who fail to lodge a return on time have committed an offence. If the councillor fails to lodge the return within a further month, that member’s seat automatically becomes vacant.
Councillors receive a range of reports and documents – for example attached to meeting agendas – in the course of carrying out their duties as a councillor.
Councillors, as well as the general public, also have rights to access some of a Council’s documents and additional rights under the Freedom of Information Act 1991.
Councillors have additional rights to:
Access documents relevant to the performance of their functions and duties through the Chief Executive Officer at any reasonable time and without charge;
Demand that any document relevant to a motion before council be tabled, before the motion can be voted on.
Another section in this Guide provides answers to frequently asked questions about dealing with complaints against councils and councillors. Read more about complaints, grievances and review mechanisms...
Councillors do not receive wages, but section 76 of the Local Government Act 1999 provides for councillors to be paid an allowance. The allowance is set, once every four years, by the Remuneration Tribunal, just before Local Government elections. The amounts are to be indexed by CPI in the following three years.
The Remuneration Tribunal's Determination and Report can be accessed at the Remuneration Tribunal's website - http://www.remtribunal.sa.gov.au/localgov.htm
Councils are also able to reimburse expenses that may be incurred by a councillor in the course of carrying out council duties. Councils may also provide some support and facilities such as computers and facsimile machines for council business.
A register of allowances and benefits is kept by the Chief Executive Officer of the council and is available for public inspection.