Understanding Governance Structures and Where you Fit into the System

Governance is the way by which an organisation is held accountable. In Local Government, governance encompasses the accountability of staff to the elected Council Members and the accountability of both Council staff and elected Council Members to the community.

Russell (2003) defines ‘governance’ as:
“..the structures and processes adopted by a council to ensure that its accountability and relationships to its residents, employees and stakeholders reflect:

  • sound principles
  • ethical behaviour
  • robust procedures
  • democratic accountability
  • openness
  • transparency
  • clearly assigned roles and responsibilities and
  • a responsive framework for community participation.”

He provides the following diagram as a synopsis of key governance elements:

Russell (2003), ‘Governance: Some Experiences of Local Government’, LGA Background Paper 2.

Council members and Council staff have distinctive responsibilities assigned to each under good governance principles, and under the Local Government Act 1999 .

The Act provides direction on governance issues such as the conduct of councillors and disclosure of interests, meeting structures and code of practice requirements, in order to maintain integrity and confidence in the decision making process.
Reference: Russell (2003), ‘Governance: Some Experiences of Local Government’, LGA Background Paper 2.

Responsibility of Council Staff

In order to assist councillors, Council staff should provide performance data and financial statements in an accessible manner, to enable councillors to understand Council’s position in various areas. Staff should also organise meetings, briefings, consultations, working papers and sessions to allow councillors to undertake their democratic responsibilities and interface with the community effectively.

It is important for staff to support councillors, recognise their time constraints and understand the important role that elected councillors play in governance.

Councillors and staff need to understand and respect the unique contribution each has to make to governance, in order to work as an effective team.
Source: Russell (2003), ‘Governance: Some Experiences of Local Government’, LGA Background Paper 2.

For more information, see LGA Background Paper 2.