Elected members face challenges from national and local perspectives

Published on 07 September 2022

The mayor and councillors lined up from one side of the arena walkway to the other and striding towards the camera.

An independent review into the culture between elected members of Palmerston North City Council, and between them and senior Council managers has acknowledged the challenges facing local government, both from a governance and operational point of view.

Trends and changes that impact society at large, including Covid-19, workforce implications, and the use of virtual tools were highlighted as having local impacts, along with increased local public scrutiny and pressure to deliver against ratepayers’ expectations.

Social media was mentioned, along with a Local Government New Zealand survey that showed 43% of respondents reported experiencing harassment, prejudiced, threatening or derogatory behaviours in their roles. The review says: “Elected members are not immune to the increased use of social media as a way for people to vent their frustrations or display their prejudices.”

The review, undertaken by management consultancy Tregaski Brown and commissioned by elected members, was prepared in advance of a new council following the local government elections in October and introduction of a new chief executive in November. The report was presented to Council by Chris Dyhrberg, Acting Chief Executive.

Following interviews with current elected members and members of the organisation’s executive leadership team, the review commented on the organisational culture, role of Mayor, expectations on elected members and role of senior managers.

A number of observations were made in the review including the commitment to the community by all interviewees. However, the review also included comments that some elected members feel they not always fairly treated, that they don’t necessarily know each other and their roles well, and that the Code of Conduct is not effective. Other comments included senior managers not always taking elected members’ needs into account, and that they may try to manage elected members.

Three recommendations have been made in the review:

  • review and revise the Code of Conduct
  • redesign the elected members’ induction process
  • reset the relationship with the chief executive.

All recommendations are currently in train, according to Dyhrberg.

Other suggested improvements included developing a criteria for the allocation of leadership roles among elected members, establish development plans for elected members, re-establish meetings with the executive leadership team, commission an organisational health dashboard, and commission better reporting of Capex activity.

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