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Critical of your local council? Put yourself up for election

Opinion

Good elected representatives aren’t there to find problems for the sake of a headline but instead to listen to constituents and come up with solutions, writes outgoing city councillor Natasha Malani.

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When people think of Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes, what probably comes to mind is “I’ll be back” or “Hasta la vista, baby”.

I actually prefer this one: “While public service improves lives and the world around you, its greatest reward is the enrichment and new meaning it will bring your own life.”

After eight years on the Adelaide City Council, I’ve told my friends and supporters that “I won’t be back”, and that my focus has shifted to actively encouraging others to run for local government.

I’m also fully aware the reputation of local government has taken a bit of a beating in recent times.

It’s hard work and it’s a challenge for younger people establishing a career or business or for more established leaders and business people to find the time to devote to taking on such a position.

But I’m issuing a challenge: if you’re someone who has been critical of the local government sector and think you can make an impact – and make a real difference to your community – why not have a go?

And if you believe we should encourage more people to be engaged in local government including women, younger people, business people, leaders and people with a progressive mindset and new ideas – then have a go.

I can assure you that you will get the opportunity to improve the lives of others and that it’s an enriching and incredibly rewarding role.

My decision to run for council in 2010, and re-election in 2014, has allowed me to make a difference, develop my own skills and meet great people.

I want to help the next crop of councillors to bring their skills, experiences and ambitions to local government – to share the experience I have been fortunate enough to enjoy.

So, what makes a good councillor?

For me, there are some common skills and attributes that I believe deliver effective leadership in local government.

Let me share my ‘top five’.

  1. Find solutions and not problems.
    I don’t believe a councillor’s role is to dig around for holes, look for problems and then exacerbate them to get a headline. Be someone who can solve grassroots issues and contribute to solving bigger problems rather than creating them.
  2. Listen to people.
    You represent the constituents so constantly be out talking to different people. If someone takes the time to share their view, it’s likely worth hearing.
  3. Have a vision for your city or region.
    Create ideas (don’t be afraid), share your ideas, listen to new ideas and be bold in developing a vision for the city. We are competing in a global market, so we need to continue to innovate, grow and improve.
  4. Have the clear objective of doing good.
    I have always had the lens of doing the right thing for the people and the City of Adelaide.
  5. Respect the people that work for the council. 
    The CEO, directors, parking inspectors, horticultural team, planning team, librarians, support staff, customer service, volunteers and more are all passionate human beings who work hard. They often know more than you do as they are experts in their field. Show trust, respect and value their time.

If you can find the balance of these five tips, you will have a far broader perspective about a particular decision or issue.

It’s also important to understand the diversity of councils.

You may be passionate about one or two issues, however, a good councillor will understand a range of policy areas.

The Adelaide City Council has more than 200 policies and councillors will vote on all of them, from major infrastructure projects such as the Adelaide Oval redevelopment, to international relations, all the way to footpath and balcony encroachment policies.

You will need to be across everything, as you have decisions to make that will impact the lives of residents, businesses and visitors to the city.

Beyond these things, you need to be a leader, be professional, ask questions, work hard and be passionate.

If this sounds like you, nominate.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time serving on our capital city council and I’ll be here to help anyone who wants to have a go themselves.

I wish success to you all.

Natasha Malani is an area councillor at the City of Adelaide.

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