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Guide to Councils

Council structure

Councils are made up of two parts: the elected representatives (councillors) and administration (council staff).

Elected representatives

Councillors are democratically elected by the residents and ratepayers of the municipality. Once elected, they are responsible for reviewing matters and debating issues before their council. They take an Oath of Office to carry out this role impartially, to the best of their ability, and in the best interests of the municipality.

The elected council

An elected council sets the overall direction for the municipality through long-term planning and decision making. It adopts a strategic view of the future it wishes to achieve for its community and makes plans and policies to achieve this.

The council is responsible for appointing the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and are also responsible for managing and reviewing the CEO’s performance.

Meetings and decisions

Councillors must attend formally constituted council meetings in order to take part in councils decision making process which includes reviewing council objectives and policies to ensure that they are appropriate to the needs of the community. A councillor can only make decisions as a member of the council as a whole, which are determined by popular vote. No individual councillor, nor the mayor, has the power to make decisions on behalf of council. Failure to attend more than four of these meetings consecutively, will result in a councillor being removed from council.

Term of office

All councillors are elected for a four year term. The next elections for all Victorian councils will be held on the fourth Saturday in October 2020. State and council elections are scheduled to occur two years apart from each other.


The role of councillors is set out in the Local Government Act which  provides clarity and guidance to councils, councillors and constituents about what is expected of councillors.

There are several key elements to the role of a councillor i.e. participating in high level decision-making, setting the strategic direction of the council and representing the local community. 

The role of a councillor does not include those functions performed by the Chief Executive Officer.


The mayor is the figurehead of the council and is elected by their fellow councillors for a one or two-year term. Mayors may be re-elected at the discretion of the council. The City of Melbourne is the exception to this rule, where all eligible voters directly elect the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor for the full term of the Council. 

The mayor actively promotes and develops opportunities for the municipality. This often involves developing and maintaining extensive individual and community networks, and performing an important social and ceremonial role as leader of the community. The mayor takes the chair at all meetings of the council at which he or she is present. If absent, incapable of acting or refuses to act, the council must appoint a councillor to act as mayor. 

 In addition to the above, the Mayor:

  •  provides guidance to councillors about what is expected of them; and
  •  acts as the principal council spokesperson and articulates council policies and positions fairly and accurately; and
  •  supports good working relations between councillors; and
  •  represents the council in civic and ceremonial duties which may differ from council to council.

Chief Executive Officer

The CEO is the only staff member who is appointed by the council. The CEO is appointed for no more than five years at a time, but can be re-appointed for further terms.

The CEO is responsible for managing the organisational structure for the council, ensuring that council decisions are implemented, the day to day management of the council's operations and providing advice to council.

 The CEO is also responsible for supporting the mayor in the performance of his or her role, and the development, implementation and enforcement of policies and protocols to manage interactions between councillors and council staff. 

Council staff

Council staff are the resource that ensures the day to day running of the organisation and the delivery of council services and functions. Staff have a wide range of training and expertise.

Council staff are responsible for providing advice, implementing council’s direction and taking action on council decisions. Council officers also provide advice and expertise that help a council to form policy decisions, along with delivering services and implementing decisions.

The Local Government Act requires council staff to observe specific conduct principles. These principles require staff in the course of their employment to:

  • act impartially;
  • act with integrity including avoiding conflicts of interest;
  • accept accountability for results;
  • provide responsive service.