By Tracey Matthies
MOST people managing a multi-million-dollar business employing hundreds of people have followed a solid career path of education and workplace experience to reach that point.
And while those people will have a diverse range of responsibilities, their businesses will typically be tightly focused in a specific industry such as manufacturing, food production or property development.
That’s what makes the role of local government councillors unique.
Residents and ratepayers can find themselves elected to council where, for an allowance that equates to little more than a part-time wage, they are responsible for setting strategic directions and making decisions that can impact their family, friends, neighbours and wider community.
With a budgeted income of $71 million in South Gippsland Shire Council this financial year, councillors make decisions on issues as diverse as planning and building, roads and parking, community services, waste and animal management, recreation, culture, local laws and emergency management.
And although councillors don’t actually manage staff, their considerations and decisions also affect council staff – all 260-plus full-time equivalent staff in the South Gippsland Shire Council.
It can be both a thankless and immensely satisfying role but is one that few people are truly prepared for through education and experience.
That’s why South Gippsland Shire Council chief executive Kerryn Ellis and administrator chair Julie Eisenbise want people interested in standing for the council elections in October to start talking to them now, gathering information and learning as much as they can about the role.
They believe the work of the administrators and various senior staff appointments have put the municipality in a good position for the return of an elected council.
“All the policies have been reviewed, we have a new organisational head… and other new, vibrant people coming into the organisation with fresh ideas,” Ms Eisenbise said.
“We need to be telling people it is different to what it was two and a half years ago. It’s a different organisation to what it was before.”
Ms Ellis agreed.
“There’s been a lot of work done within the organisation and at council level to set up good governance practices,” she said.
“And this is a great opportunity for people that are community-minded and want to see great things happen for South Gippsland to make a
contribution in a different way.”
Ms Ellis said the organisation was there to support councillors to be successful.
“If people are concerned, ‘how will I prioritise my time’, ‘how will I know which stakeholders to meet with’ – you know, any of those questions that are making them think it might be overwhelming – we’re all here to help them and we’ll do everything we can to make their lives as easy as possible.
“We are very much here to enable them to be successful.”
Ms Eisenbise, a former councillor, said she welcomed enquiries from anyone considering running for council in October.
“It’s just part of the process of them doing their homework to see whether it’s going to be an option for them. I’d take any call that comes to me in regard to that, and I will talk through the questions, answer the questions as openly as I can,” she said.
“I’m not there to influence them. I’m certainly not there to recruit them.”
South Gippsland Shire Council and the Victorian Electoral Commission will run information sessions for potential candidates in the run up to the election. Newly elected councillors must also complete training and transition programs to further prepare them for their role.