Reflecting upon the first three months as a fledgling councillor, I’ve found myself contemplating what success would look like in four years’ time and what does a ‘good’ councillor look like?
It’s only by understanding what the electorate wants, and what it expects from us, that we can have a meaningful and rewarding mutual journey.
As I look around the council, I see obvious examples of ‘good’ across all political parties. It strikes me, however, that it’s not for a councillor to decide what ‘good’ looks like.
In the same way, it’s not for any service provider to define itself as a now well-hackneyed ‘trusted adviser’ or other noble-sounding thing.
Only the receiver of any service has the right to crown the service giver ‘trusted’ or ‘competent’.
Perhaps we need to ask more frequently, in person, “am I meeting your expectations?”
The receiver only gets to let us know once every four years.
Let’s face it, in the private sector an under-performer would struggle to last four months.
Surely to be considered ‘good’, we need to have made a positive difference to something that really matters to people.
On the other hand, at times we need to be an advocate for the council when we feel sure it is right.
A councillor seeks election normally for noble reasons. They want to ‘do good’.
They possibly seek election because they want to be part of something democratic and interesting.
They may want to be a filler of potholes, a fixer of pavements, a trimmer of grass and a slower of traffic – all whilst also having some influence over how public money is invested and how our schools, social care and hospitals are run.
Ultimately, however, I’d suggest it will, in the end, be our attitude that will define us, not just the completion of tasks. Often that just boils down to competent process management.
The really great councillors, of which there are very many, have an edge.
They have attitude. They’re the strongest communicators. They are respected and enjoyed by their peers.
And let’s face it, they successfully change tough and challenging things that seem set in stone for the better.
They also seem to get things done because they see other points of view. They empathise and they back down when they know they’re wrong.
They prepare well for meetings and they educate themselves on topics they hadn’t even heard of before they were elected.
In my experience so far, the good ones are just dedicated, authentic people.
They rise above the sniping.
The best have a very strong sense of community and a pride in what they try to deliver back to the public, often while holding down full time jobs and running a family.
I’m in awe of them and have much to learn from the best of the best, past and present.
Coun Karen Lee-Duffy
North Tyneside Council