The Old Grey Mayor Ain’t What He Used to Be!

I’m old enough to remember a song of my childhood, with a slightly different title to that written above: The Old Gray Mare Ain’t What She Used to Be. Some authors maintain that this song referred to the performance of a horse, Lady Suffolk, the first horse recorded as trotting a mile in less than two and a half minutes – in 1843!

I’m obviously referring to mayors, many of whom are male with grey hair, and ‘old’ by some standards. I tried to access demographics on Australian mayors, but didn’t succeed, so my writings are based on anecdotal evidence, rather than solid statistics. A few weeks ago, I facilitated a one-day workshop for 17 councillors, three of whom were current mayors, and two being past mayors. Two of those five were women, and one mayor was probably in his early forties – definitely not old and grey. I also very recently ran a half-day workshop for a group of mayors as part of a Mayors’ Weekend program. Again, they were a diverse mixture, with some being women, some in their 30s and 40s, and some probably in their 50s and 60s. ‘Old’ has recently been redefined as 75 or older, so the above mayors were not old by that definition.

Many people may not be aware of the key roles that mayors and councillors play in our society. All NSW councils have between 5 and 15 councillors, who in effect, are the board of directors of their particular council. Their role is to govern the council – this involves overseeing the direction of the council, developing/signing off on the strategic plans, monitoring progress, providing effective civic leadership, appointing the General Manager and monitoring their performance, and so on.

The mayor has sometimes been described as the first among equals because of their key role. They chair council meetings, are the principal spokesperson for the council, and also lead councillors in exercising their responsibilities and ensuring good governance. They have a key role in promoting community engagement and cohesion, and representing Council in various forums and ceremonial functions.

In contrast to the governing role of mayor and councillors, the general manager is responsible for implementing their decisions, producing the strategic plans in consultation with the governing body, and providing advice as needed to the Mayor and governing body. The relationship between the mayor and general manager is a critical one, and some councils in NSW were dismissed a decade or so ago because that relationship had become toxic. Most of the councils I have worked with in the last 18 years enjoy a healthy constructive working relationship between these two key players.

I have the highest of respect for mayors. I believe that the allowance they receive (In NSW at least) is not commensurate with their critical role and the demands it places on them. It is a highly demanding job, and not one for the faint-hearted. Whether they’re ‘old, grey males’, females or relatively young, they certainly deserve our respect and support.

Narayan van de Graaff

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