I was at a forum recently where a lady approached me and made an interesting comment. The forum was held by an organisation that wanted to explain what it did in the Dubbo community. I have dealt with this particular organisation on a number of occasions and have a good working relationship with them. Although I didn’t feel obliged to attend the forum, I thought it was the right thing to do. I believed it was important to show the community that this organisation had the support of Council.
I sat quietly at the back of the meeting, allowing several speakers to explain their role within the organisation. The CEO of the organisation was kind enough to acknowledge me at the beginning of the meeting and made mention that I might need to leave early as I had another engagement, but that was my total involvement during the meeting.
At the end of the meeting I chatted to a few people while everyone gathered for a cup of tea, but I did have another engagement to attend. As I was about to leave, one lady said to m:, “I don’t know why you bothered attending if you were going to stay quiet. Was it just so you could say you had been here?” To a certain extent she was right. I did attend simply to show my support for the organisation. I don’t feel a need to talk at every function I attend, but I am often amazed at how appreciative people are that I have attended.
What it brought home to me was the question: what is the Mayor’s role? Section 226 of the Local Government Act defines the role of the Mayor in a very technical manner, but I am not sure it captures the essence of the role. There are four components quoted in the Act. Firstly, the role of the Mayor is to exercise the policy-making functions of the governing body of the Council between meetings. Secondly, a Mayor must exercise such other functions of the Council as the Council determines (which sounds very vague). Thirdly, the Mayor is to preside at meetings of the Council. Lastly, the Mayor needs to carry out the civic and ceremonial functions of the Mayoral office.
It would be safe to say that in the 152 Councils across NSW, the role of the Mayor is different in every single instance. Some Mayors hold down a full-time job outside Council and fit their duties in around that. Some would focus on different areas of Council where they may see their talents best utilised. Some might spend their time lobbying governments for additional funding or being a representative on other organisations.
In my example, I see that points one and three which define of the role of Mayor, although extremely important, take up minimal time. The major focus, and the area that the public seems to focus on, is the last point mentioned in the local government act.
Most Mayors receive enough invitations to openings and presentations and awards that it would be easy to be at three events at once several times a day. I often joke with my kids that I am now so used to doing openings that they can’t open their lunchboxes without me declaring them officially open. They still don’t laugh!
I like to constantly review the role to ensure I am carrying it out to the best of my ability. After the comment made by the lady at the forum I mentioned earlier, I thought long and hard if attending a forum such as this was the best possible use of my time. To contrast this, I heard a third-hand comment the next day. I had apologised to one event because the Treasurer, Mike Baird, was in Dubbo to discuss the Cobbora Mine and I believed it was important to attend. One of the attendees of the meeting I missed was heard to say they were disappointed that I didn’t think theirs was important enough, and I probably didn’t attend because there were no photographers present. There are times when it seems you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
The role of the Mayor is a tricky one, and one that each Mayor across the state can shape and mould to suit their skills and the needs of their community. For me, I think for the moment I will stick to attending as many events in our community as I am physically able, and focus on the communication aspects that I have always said are so important for Council. However, I am always happy to hear your thoughts on the role of the Mayor at email@example.com
Clr Mathew Dickerson
Mayor of the City of Dubbo