Once a Councillor is elected there is no formal platform or mechanism for communities in the wards to hold them accountable for poor performance. We need to invite new ways to do this and community agreements to enforce them.
As soon as we elect a resident to be Ward Councillor and our new Ward Committee we must ensure that we come together in an assembly to deliberate on a Ward Agreement. Our Councillor is not accountable to a political party – he or she is only accountable to residents in the ward so we need an agreement which will make it clear what our shared values are, what work we expect our Councillor to do, how we expect our Councillor to communicate, how we will participate in decisions and how our Councillor will report back and be accountable to the communities in the Ward.
State of the Ward Address
Once a year the President is required to give a state of the nation address or SONA in which he or she outlines the achievements of the government and presents a political programme for the year ahead. What happens in our ward is just as important and we should give it the same attention but we can do it a bit different – let’s work collaboratively on a state of the ward address or SOWA
Instead of the SOWA being attended by politicians, dignitaries and celebrities lets make sure that it is open to everyone living in the ward. Let’s listen to a summary of the everything that has been achieved together with our elected Councillor both in the ward and in Council on behalf of the ward. Instead of listening to the Councillor make promises for the year ahead, let’s work collaboratively on a programme of action, review our structures and reaffirm our ways of working and our ward agreement with the Councillor.
At regular assemblies held in the ward, our Councillor should present any by-laws or policies that Council is planning to adopt, any maintenance, initiatives or projects that the administration is planning, and any issues that will be debated. He or she should listen to what the needs are in the Ward and after deliberation seek a formal mandate from the Ward on the positions they will take and the votes they will make in the administration, committees and Council meetings.
These ward mandates should be seen as binding and we should hear back from our Councillor regularly on how they have tried to implement ward mandates. Being accountable means that they explain what they have done, what could be achieved and what could not be achieved with reasons both in Ward Assemblies and in any newsletter, online participatory platforms or social media posts so that everyone is informed.
Recalling a Councillor
If we feel that our Councillor is not honouring the Ward Agreement or being accountable to the Ward then we must have the right to choose a different Councillor.
If the Councillor was elected as part of a ward platform that registered as a party, then the platform has the right to recall the Councillor and should have a fair mechanism in place that has been developed.
If the ward platform was formed to elect a Councillor as an independent then the criteria and mechanism must be clearly articulated in the Ward Agreement.
Either way, when a Ward Councillor no longer has the confidence of the Ward and is recalled or resigns this would trigger a by-election in which political parties could contest.
There will always be people who are unhappy with the performance of a Councillor in the ward – it is hard to please everyone. There will always be political parties and formations who wish to secure power for themselves and their agenda. So we cannot be naive in putting forward a mechanism to recall a Councillor – but it is a necessary mechanism to ensure ultimate authority lies with residents and accountability can be enforced through local democracy. The mechanism should therefore be available but should not be able to be so easily triggered otherwise a duly elected Councillor will spend most of their term defending themselves against motions to recall them.