Local Government Elections 2024

Local Government elections 2024

The Local Government elections 2024 are upon us. The quadrennial local government elections in Queensland always produce a period of uncertainty for Council organisations. Regardless of whether the previous four years has been highly collaborative or desperately tense, the unknown outcome of the new election poses its own conundrums particularly for CEOs and their senior managers. With the close of nominations having occurred some uncertainty, like whether sitting councillors will renominate, have been resolved. There is also now clarity as to whether there will be contests for office or in the case of Divisional elections, whether any candidates are to be elected unopposed.

As the campaigning begins CEOs and the teams also begin to get some idea of the likely policy directions being espoused by the candidates. Always of considerable interest are the pronouncements of new candidates as to policy areas they seek to influence, particularly if they are proposing significant change. Whether there are few or many changes in elected members, council management teams need to be agile enough to respond to any change in policy direction, political dynamics, personality profiles and priorities of focus.

When the doorway opens to a new four year electoral term, what strategies can CEOs and their management teams adopt to prepare for any eventuality?

Information is everything

Being fully informed about the backgrounds and campaign policy platforms of the candidates will provide some advance appreciation of their likely preparedness and capacity to take on the role of councillor or Mayor. Understanding individual and collective strengths and vulnerabilities of candidates in areas of desirable skills for being an effective local government councillor, may help the organisation plan and deliver appropriate introductory training for those newly elected. Notwithstanding the varied backgrounds of candidates and even the likelihood that some may be antagonistic toward the former Council and its organisation, a CEO and their senior staff should be prepared to engage positively with all candidates, establishing sufficient rapport to support a businesslike relationship with those who are elected.

In many cases antagonism towards the organisation is founded upon misinformation or lack of information and can be reduced by the provision of accurate and transparent briefings. Importantly the CEO and all staff should maintain a completely independent and objective approach during the election period. Showing any sign of bias or preferential treatment towards sitting members or a new candidate must always be avoided.

Post Election strategies

Once the election results are known, any of three main scenarios may arise.

  1. Little change in the Council membership and prospects for continuity of the overall strategic direction. Even so, it is worth early engagement with the members to clarify any altered nuances or priorities within that continuing direction, especially if they are one or two new members who may wish to influence changed emphasis in that direction.
  2. Significant change in the office of Mayor or councillors that might precipitate a major change in policy direction. In this case an early strategic planning workshop is essential to establish what will change, how the change will impact on the organisation and the timing of the proposed change. Clarification of the assumptions underlying the desired change may be needed to ensure that the new direction has been thoroughly substantiated as practical and within the organisations capacity to deliver. Depending on the extent of change the organisation may need to adapt its thinking and response to new expectations of service philosophy and delivery.
  3. Disruptive change whereby the results of the election produce a divided policy alignment of members. This often gives rise to the prospect of significant conflict of fundamental ideals and therefore difficulties in establishing the dominant direction to which the organisation can apply its effort. In this case the skill of the CEO and the executive team in mediating the diverse views will be sorely tested. A highly professional approach to negotiation and compromise is necessary on the part of the senior staff in particular and effective management of the objectivity of all ranks toward impartial service to elected members is essential.

Recent history of local government elections in Queensland reveals that in the first 18 months following the elections there has been a high turnover of CEOs and senior staff in Council organisations. In turn, a high proportion of this turnover is accounted for by in ‘voluntary’ departures.

CEOs can mitigate the risk of such dislocations to the organisation by carefully preparing for the election outcome whichever course it takes.

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