396 million reasons to think before you vote at this Council election

On the eve of Council elections I find myself reflecting on what the future holds for us here in Wangaratta, and what the past has taught us. 

After a three-year sojourn, democracy is being returned to the Rural City of Wangaratta and we’ve a buffet of twenty candidates vying for seven positions.  The appointment of Administrators in 2013 returned much-needed stability to our region. (Yes I am happy with the role our Administrators played - they showed us exactly how strategic organisational leaders should behave. They were appointed to restore stability and bring good governance to our community, and to their credit they have successfully done so).

Local Government has evolved significantly over the last decade and it’s time we acknowledge that it now has more in common with a business than a Government, electing Councillors is the only real Government part left. 

Our Council chases revenue through funding, rates and charges to build infrastructure and maintain assets. It provides services and strategic planning and works to meet community needs and obligations. Like any business, it needs to be financially viable, economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.

Essentially, the Rural City of Wangaratta is an enterprise and we each own a share. The organisation has net assets of $396 million[1] and 280 staff - it’s serious stuff when you think about Local Government in that way.

So, how are we recruiting our board of directors? Is our recruitment process flawed and out-dated? Perhaps the only upside of the 2013 chaos is that we now have better ways to manage, discipline and remove errant Councillors - but can we improve the way we appoint them? Of course we can.

The Good Council Group has effectively served up the selection criteria to guide we ratepayers (shareholders) in selecting who runs our Council (enterprise) for the next three years.  These criteria come close to matching those mentioned on Good Governance which is worth a read to learn more about what to expect from a Councillor.   Honestly, I think the Victorian Government should have asked our community to first show we had willing Council candidates that meet these criteria before it decided to move-on the Administrators. A significant portion of Council income is from Government grants, so they’re a shareholder too and also have an interest in how Wangaratta is run.

Businesses and all levels of Government have recruitment requirements - selection criteria, education and training experience needs, detailed job descriptions and reference checks. We should be applying those same rigorous methods to the people who lead our Council. Not doing so is like appointing an apprentice cook to the head chef position - it’s setting them up to fail.

What would the job description for a Director of a $396m company look like? Before you vote, think about that for a minute and use it to assess the current batch of candidates putting their hand up to run Wangaratta Council.

[1] Rural City of Wangaratta Annual Report 2014-15, p7