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Member Relations Corner: Top ten list for elected officials 

By Rob Shepherd
NCLM Manager of Member Relations and Education

Being a council member or mayor can be overwhelming. In addition to balancing a schedule filled with town hall meetings and requests from citizens, there are roles and responsibilities to learn. The League and the University of North Carolina School of Government provide courses and resources to help guide you throughout your term, but here’s a Reader’s Digest version of the most important things elected officials should be aware of:

  1. Review and understand your municipal charter. Municipalities operate under a charter authorizing the establishment of a municipal government and outlining the powers, authority and responsibilities of the municipal government. The charter designates things like the form of government for the municipality, the size, title and length of terms of the governing body, the election method used, and much more. Some charters also speak to provisions in the organizational structure of municipal staff.
  2. Understand your role as a municipal elected official. You should clearly understand what form of government is in place in your unit of government, the roles, lines of authority and statutory authority of the following positions:  the mayor, mayor pro-tem, the manager or administrator (if any), the clerk, the attorney and department heads.
  3. Know your statutory authority. Municipalities in North Carolina are creatures of the state legislature and only authorized to adopt rules, provide services and other functions if the state has given municipalities the permission to do so. Authority from the state comes in the form of broad general authority under the NC General Statutes or through a local act.
  4. Familiarize yourself with your municipalities operations and services. In order to understand how your municipality operates, you need to learn what services are provided and how they are provided. Ask your manager, administrator or clerk for a tour of the facilities and operations. Become informed of the level of services, the costs, the employees and their qualifications, experience and skills.
  5. The “buck stops” with you. Even though municipalities are required by law to appoint a finance officer, it is the governing body that has the ultimate fiduciary responsibility for the finances of your municipality. Ask questions about revenue, cost of services, the budget and the fund balance. Don’t be afraid to request monthly or quarterly financial reports.
  6. Do you know your community? Find out what issues are facing your citizens and brainstorm ways to fix them. Be sure to engage community leaders and confirm you have the statutory authority to address the issues.
  7. Be prepared!  Becoming familiar with agenda packets and asking questions before meetings should help you make informed decisions at the meeting and have efficient meetings.   
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate!  As with most relationships, communications is vital. Typically, the more communication there is, the better the board’s relationship and opportunities for you be understood. Make sure people in the community and media understand the difference of your personal opinion versus the official position of the municipality. The governing body should speak with one voice -- once a vote is taken, try to be supportive of it, even if you personally do not like the decision.  
  9. Education and training. North Carolina is fortunate to have outstanding educational and training resources for local government officials not often found in other states. The League and the School of Government are committed to providing local government officials with education, training, publications, research and networking opportunities. It’s important for elected officials, as well as municipal staff, to seek educational opportunities and new ideas with people outside your community.  Learning how other municipalities deal with similar issues can help address issues in your community. Visit www.nclm.org to learn about the many opportunities for education, training and networking through the League.
  10. Be Ethical. North Carolina law (G.S. 160A-87) requires all members of local government governing boards to receive a minimum of two hours of ethics education within 12 months after initial election or appointment to office and again within 12 months after each subsequent election or appointment. The obligation to take the training and obtain verification of compliance with the law rests with the governing board member.