local councils

Feature photo: Speaker in a committee | © Shutterstock

The municipal councils, which incidentally evolved from the town councils of the Middle Ages, can be considered the lowest political bodies because they are located at the municipal level. In contrast to the former city councils, today's municipal councils are elected by the entire population and not only by the urban elites and can therefore also be regarded as the people's representatives directly on site. A more contemporary term, because it is more understandable for the majority of the population, would be local or city parliament.

As in all other parliaments, there are only a few requirements for running for office in a municipal council. You must have reached the minimum age and you must have had your primary residence and main focus of life in the municipality for a certain period of time; in Germany this is three months. If you still get a place on the list of a party or group of voters, then only the voter decides whether you will be elected to the municipal council — of course, the counting system used in the elections also has a not insignificant influence; In this respect, the calculation method for the distribution of seats in municipal bodies in Baden-Württemberg was adapted by d'Hondt to the maximum number method Sainte-Laguë/Schepers. 

But once you're on the council, you can do whatever you want. But if you want to keep your place on the list for the coming elections, then you are subject to faction pressure and have to vote as your own party would like it to be. The exception here are the free voters, who make the difference here.

There is one thing you should definitely not do, namely to change your place of residence and your main focus of life during your term of office, because this also eliminates the only requirement for the office of a municipal council. And so it is actually common that the election period for which one was elected ends. It sometimes happens that some municipal councilors, despite their advanced age, run for re-election only to find that they cannot keep their promise to the electorate. Then a successor takes over this mandate.

In rare cases it happens that a municipal council has to relinquish its mandate due to death, serious illness or a professional or family change.

And so the citizen has to live with what he has chosen. And it's usually the case that he always elects the same councilors - no matter what they do or don't do - as long as they get a place on the list from the parties.

And so it has become common practice that our municipal councils can do whatever they want. And since there are no qualitative requirements - apart from being elected - for this office, usually not much productive happens anymore, which definitely means the decades of waiting for certain projects, such as e.g. B. the Saarlandstraße or cleanliness, peace and order in the city.

However, it can always get a lot worse, as we are currently witnessing in the example of a town in our neighborhood. The local councils there not only throw the tax money out of the window with full hands, but already throw it out the window with laundry tubs and even dare to demand additional funds from the state. In this tiny town, the voter's democratic corrective has long since failed, and so we can only hope that our country, because the district's corrective obviously didn't work either, will soon pull the emergency brake.

So we voters should actually recognize that it is primarily up to us, namely by taking a very close look at who we vote for. Simply electing urban “celebrities” without considering whether they can at least read, write, and do basic math puts our communities in very difficult waters. And if the parties then agree on a mayor who has nothing to show apart from a party book, then it becomes more than life-threatening for the communities as a whole. Because the "professional" mayor not only leads the "honorary" municipal council, but also the municipal administration — after all, here in Heilbronn we have well over 3 employees.

But we can regulate all this again, namely by voting accordingly and paying attention to the candidates with which the parties and groups of voters are going in the next election. Let me give you a hint: They also don't choose their doctor based on the color of their hair or how often they see them in their favorite broomstick. And certainly not because it is at the top of a list drawn up by parties.

What it is very difficult for us citizens to change, however, is a system failure, and as a Heilbronner I have to be more than amazed!

As a career officer, I was hardly able to exercise my passive right to vote, if at all, since our relevant laws and regulations (e.g. main residence for at least three months) are no longer suitable for the life situations of more and more people. And so it was not possible for me to run for the municipal council in 2014, because I was only able to move my main residence back to Heilbronn at the end of 2014.

And so I was more than amazed in 2019 when at least one Heilbronn party nominated at least one candidate who had moved her main residence and center of life to another city a long time ago - at least she had informed me of this in writing when she left the association. The rationale of the party behind it is understandable to me, they want to give this candidate the place on the list so that she is already known in later elections when she then lives in Heilbronn again - if she then lives in Heilbronn again! But the whole thing is illegal and illegitimate! In addition, all people in Heilbronn - including me in the past decades - should have been given this opportunity. At least I accuse this party of having a strange understanding of democracy.

You can imagine that I was somewhat shocked when the electoral commission approved all party lists as perfectly fine — because they match the candidates and their places of residence, or at least that's their job. And it didn't help that the hoary campaigners told me that Heilbronn had always done it that way. From my own experience, I may now add, also only for the “better” people from Heilbronn — and I obviously don’t belong to them.

After the 2019 election, I was told very quickly that this particular candidate had not been elected and that everything was fine again.

But what can't be right is if the municipal councils elected in 2019 clearly settle their life focus outside of Heilbronn. Personally, I found it a bit borderline when members of parliament who have lived in Berlin for years continue to retain their municipal council mandate — which incidentally explains their decisions in Berlin against Heilbronner interests, such as a functioning Franconian railway and the expansion of locks.

However, this limit should clearly be exceeded when a Heilbronn municipal councilor studies in South America for a good year or looks after a company in the USA, with their own family still living there! And these are just the few cases that come to my ears as a citizen of Heilbronn. It would be very interesting if the responsible parties or groups of voters were officially asked whether their municipal councils even have the opportunity to take care of our Heilbronn interests!

And so I was perhaps even wrong when I accused individual municipal councilors of personal failure, because if they don't know what's going on in Heilbronn at all, then they can hardly stand up for our interests. But then you have to blame the parties and electoral groups responsible for it! And we all have to ask ourselves what kind of understanding of democracy there is in these parties - just taking care of party members so that they have as comfortable a life as possible is a bit too little.

"What is it we all seek for in an election? To answer its real purposes, you must first possess the means of knowing the fitness of your man; and then you must retain some hold upon him by personal obligation or dependence.”

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (2017[1790])
  • After all, the understanding of the sinecure can look back on a long tradition. It is amazing with what energy - which could be used more seriously and purposefully - it is modernized and further justified again and again.