Local Government has long copped a raw deal from the mainstream media. When was the last time you remember Today Tonight or A CurrentAffair
hailing some impressive new initiative by a council? Never, but
there have been countless “bureaucracy gone mad” and “look at this
stupid mayor” stories because that is what the public wants to hear.

For instance, this is how the Herald Sun started a story
last November when nominations closed for the latest round of Victorian
local government elections: “Councillors who have
bickered, brawled and quit are among 1265 candidates seeking election
next
month.”

And what about those who have served their community with distinction while being paid only $15,000 a year?

Crikey is arguably even more guilty than the mainstream media in
terms of negatively portraying politicians. The growing list of mayoral
misadventures
is a classic example, although this is being done partly
to garner examples of how not to behave for three hours of sessions
with more than 100 councillors and mayors at the forthcoming Municipal
Association of Victoria Councillor Development Weekend at Lorne.

The territory to be covered will include expenses, travel, conflicts of
interest, campaign finance, dealing with the media and intra-council
relations, such as handling a disruptive councillor.

It is odd that the likes of APRA and ASIC run a tough licensing regime
in areas such as superannuation and insurance, but any old fool can sit
on council. Should Australia follow a British system where a complaints
tribunal can actually sack a councillor for bad behaviour?

Councillor travel is a classic area where you only ever read about the
amount spent on some supposedly indulgent trip. Truth be known, there
are some thoroughly worthwhile trips but they should be done early in a
term, not as some farewell tour, and the Mayor should not be able to
dish them out in return for political support. Similarly, the approval
process should be through the relevant council committee, discussed in
the open chamber and having a senior bureaucrat accompany a councillor
to the conference or sister city is not a bad idea either.

We’ve already heard from a couple of former Mayors about what to say
this weekend, but please keep the suggestions coming to
[email protected]

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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