As Lord Mayor, part of my job is making decisions with my fellow elected council members, the Aldermen.
This is a big responsibility and one which I take very seriously. So before making any decisions I always make sure to be as fully informed as possible. Our Council papers are made available to us up to 4 days prior to a meeting.
We depend on the Council staff to provide us with comprehensive reports which provide us with their best possible professional advice. I always ensure I have read all the papers and ask any questions when I need further clarification. I might also talk to a few of the other Council members to see how they view the decision we are being asked to make. Particularly if it is an area of special interest or they have specific expertise.
There is a particular difficulty for me in that unless a decision has been made by Council, I cannot represent a position as the position of Council. I am also required, as the spokesperson for the Council to represent the Council decisions positively even if I did not vote or agree with it. So sometimes I find myself advocating a position that I do not necessarily agree with. It is rare, but it does happen.
As a Council we have Standing Orders which dictate how the debate occurs. This structure allows us to make decisions in a respectful manner. Sometimes, if the decision warrants it, we will suspend Standing Orders to allow us more free range debate.
As the Presiding Officer I very rarely participate in debates as I’m very much occupied making sure that everyone gets to have their say and that our decisions can be enacted on by the Council staff.
It is important to note that while we do try to reach consensus, sometimes we are unable to do that and it becomes a majority vote. My single vote either contributes to the majority or not, just like every other Alderman’s vote.
I know that some of the decisions we’ve made have not pleased everyone, but that is the reality of making a decision. As Lord Mayor, it is not possible to always please everyone. This was a hard lesson I had to learn very early on. I have just one vote on Council and a casting vote ONLY in the case a tie.
The Casting Vote
The casting vote was given to me by the Council at our very first meeting. The convention for using the casting vote is to maintain the status quo in the case of a tie and that is what I undertook to do.
If the full Council is voting, then I do not have to use my casting vote as we have an uneven number so there will always be a majority.
I can count on my hands the amount of times I have needed to use the casting vote.
Every time it has been a very difficult decision, and on a couple of occasions I have had to vote in the opposite way to how I originally voted, in order to maintain the status quo.
Decision making in Council can be slow and laborious. For onlookers the process can be frustrating, particularly if Council makes a decision and then changes it.
While I can relate to this frustration, the pragmatic me says that these processes have stood the test of time. They offer the community the maximum assurance that the Council listens to them and can admit to not always getting it right.
Is it possible to please everyone or should only the loudest people be heard? What do you think?
P.S You can grab a copy of the Minutes of Council Meeting here