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A snapshot of Local Government

Councils in SA are governed under South Australian Law. The primary piece of legislation governing Councils is the Local Government Act 1999, although they are also bound by a number of other laws for example in building and development, keeping pets, parking and traffic, and public health and safety.

How Local Government councils work

Councillors are elected at General elections every four years by voluntary postal voting. The head of the elected Council is either the Mayor or Chairperson (they can be elected by all voters in the area, or by Councillors after the election). Councillors are not paid wages, but they are entitled to an annual allowance and reimbursement of expenses.

Councillors decide the policies that will guide what sort of place the local area will be, and what services the Council will provide. Council staff provide services to the community in accordance with Council policies.

Councils form committees of Councillors and staff to deal with some tasks, for example work related to planning and development, recreation, and arts and culture. Councils also consult with the community to find out their views and share information.

Anyone can go to a Council or Committee meeting to listen to what is talked about and the decisions that are made. Minutes of Council and Committee meetings, and reports about how Council affairs are managed, are available to the public to read.

What is the role of the Mayor and Councillors?

The Mayor and Councillors are elected representatives of the people who live, work and do business in the Council area. As community leaders they get involved in

  • deciding on Council plans and policies for the local area
  • ensuring Council resources are used fairly for the benefit of everyone in the community
  • talking to local people about their views and ideas for the area, and
  • letting others know on the Council, regionally and in State and Commonwealth Governments, about the local community issues.

The Mayor and Councillors are not paid wages but they are entitled to receive an annual allowance. The annual allowance varies from Council to Council. Expenses related to Council business can also be reimbursed, for example, telephone and travelling costs.

Taking on a community leadership role also means taking on extra work - there are Council agendas, papers and reports to read, meetings to attend, and community events to go to and speak at. The work also involves getting out and about in the community and talking to people who live and work in the area about their views and how they want to be represented. At the same time they carry on with their other work, including looking after their families. But despite the extra work and time commitment required, there are many rewards.

The head of the Council is usually elected as a representative of the area as a whole at the general elections (for a term of four years) and called the Mayor. Sometimes the head of the Council is chosen by the members of the Council after the election, and is usually called the "Chairperson". However, a Council can decide to call that person "Mayor".

The Mayor or Chairperson has some special duties to perform, which include

  • running the Council meetings
  • being the spokerperson of the Council, for example, to the media or at community events
  • * carrying out ceremonial duties like citizenship ceremonies, opening new buildings or parks, and being a guest speaker at important community events.
  • Working with the Council Chief Executive Officer on Council business in between Council meetings.

Voting at Council Meetings

Decisions at Council meetings are decided by a majority of the votes of the Councillors present. This is called a "deliberative vote". Voting is generally by a show of hands. Each Councillor must vote on all matters, except for the Mayor or in cases where a Council Member has an interest in the matter being decided - this is called a "conflict of interest".

The Mayor does not have a deliberative vote. However, if the numbers voting for and against are even then the Mayor has a "casting vote" which enables a decision to be made.

Where a Council has a Chairperson, the Chairperson votes on a question at the same time as other Council Members. That is, a Chairperson has a deliberative vote but not a casting vote.

For more information, follow the links below:

Youth Elections Project is a joint initative of the Local Government Association of SA, Office for State/Local Government Relations and the Office for Youth.

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