1. Taking on a leadership role
As they transition from campaigning to governing, newly elected officials need to broaden their focus from their campaign issues to all of the concerns and challenges facing the community. As a new addition to the team of a municipal government, councilmembers need to listen to all the voices speaking about the community’s needs. Successful leaders are those who work with other members of council, city staff and others in the best interest of everyone. They also find ways to transform an agreed-upon vision into concrete policy directives.
Make sure to be familiar with the municipality’s history, its form of government and its ordinances. Get up to speed by reviewing the council meeting minutes of recent years, the services the city offers and the roles and responsibilities of those who work for the city.
Review the current budget, as well as the budgets and financial statements from previous years. These documents can illustrate the city’s priorities, and how much funding and support the goals have received. Councilmembers carry the ultimate responsibility for monitoring the budget.
Attending council meetings and work sessions is not enough. Councilmembers need to develop an understanding of what is going on before they arrive at the meeting and come prepared to work. Understand the rules of procedure, including how items go onto the agenda. In advance of each session, review the agenda and any information about what council will discuss.
These critical laws help ensure public officials are held accountable for their actions. Be sure to understand the requirements of both the SC Freedom of Information Act and the state’s Ethics Reform Act, both of which establish rules that councilmembers must follow when conducting the city or town’s business. Read about the specific provisions of each at www.masc.sc (keywords: FOIA, ethics act).