Rethinking relationships in local government

New research from the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) can assist in rethinking one of the most important relationships in local government — the Mayor as leader of the council, and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as leader of the council organisation.

The research is presented in the report, Political Management in Australian Local Government: Exploring Roles and Relationships between Mayors and CEOs, written by John Martin (Centre for Sustainable Regional Communities, La Trobe University) and Chris Aulich (ANZSIG Institute for Governance at the University of Canberra). It is the first significant investigation into the Mayor/CEO relationship in the Australian context.

The paper presents ideas and resources on what is known about the topic and may provide some guidance to councils and state governments considering ways of redesigning and redefining the roles of the two local leaders.

One of the authors of the report, Professor John Martin said, “The working relationship between elected mayors and appointed officers in western democracies is one where the prescribed roles and responsibilities are negotiated over time between those who occupy these positions. This is the reason why we see so many differences in style and approach in councils.”

Some of the research and commentary provided in the report includes: models that define the complementary nature of the relationship; whether the relationship is influenced by structural issues (such as the method of election of the Mayor); what defines a successful Mayor/CEO relationship; and how the relationship can be supported by other elected and appointed council staff.

The research was undertaken through an examination of relevant literature, interviews and study of state and territory legislation relevant to the Mayor/CEO relationship. The latter is attached to the report as a useful resource for local government researchers and policy makers on the theme.

Given the lack of research on the Mayor/CEO relationship, this paper is seen as a starting point for a more concerted research effort, especially on how the relationship plays out in the different Australian jurisdictions. Comments and suggestions are invited from the local government community to enhance this project and contacts are provided in the paper.

The report can be downloaded at: www.acelg.org.au