Wollongong councillors should be full-time, paid more and given the same level of responsibility as private firm directors, the NSW branch of the Urban Development Institute of Australia says.
In a recent submission to the state's Local Government Review Panel, the organisation's chief executive Stephen Albin said councillors should be held accountable by the NSW Corporations Act because they made "more decisions that could directly affect the operations of businesses than any other level of government".
"Local governments have major responsibilities including extensive stakeholder management, town planning, emergency management, infrastructure delivery and, in many cases, the budgets of major corporations," Mr Albin said.
He said this was relevant in a city like Wollongong, which was home to "one of the major councils not only in NSW but in Australia".
"You really need skilled people to be in charge - and if you're going to attract the best people you've got to pay them correctly and give them the responsibilities and training to make the decisions required," Mr Albin said.
"In Wollongong this is critical to the growth of the region and the growth of NSW - and we need the best people possible."
Mr Albin said his institute's submission to the local government review could open a legal "can of worms" if adopted, but said councillors needed to be liable for their decisions like company directors.
"We have got instances where some councillors don't increase rates, for example, and put their council in a precarious position and then the council has to go into administration," he said.
"There should be consequences for that."
The UDIA submission came as Wollongong councillors debated the merits of giving themselves a 2.5 per cent pay rise at Tuesday's council meeting, with many believing their job was already a full-time role worth more money.
Councillor Vicki Curran said she had already given up her job despite "great financial consequences" to be a full-time councillor as she was unable to devote the hours needed to answer emails, attend briefings and advocate for residents while working, especially with the proposed changes in local government and planning.
Cr Curran said she was supportive of the ideas put forward by the UDIA about making councillors' roles full-time, but was concerned about making councillors liable as company directors.
Greg Petty was also supportive of the development institute's ideas, despite voting against this week's councillor pay rise.
"I do believe councillors should be full-time, but at this point we were elected under the existing systems and ... I think it's inappropriate for a pay rise at this point in time," Cr Petty said.
"I already feel as though I am doing the job full-time, in terms of commitment and time spent."
He agreed with Mr Albin that treating councillors like directors would help them make better financial decisions, but was concerned about how councils would afford to pay higher salaries.
The UDIA's views also echo those of Wollongong City Council general manager David Farmer, who in March suggested the local government review panel consider appointing lord mayors on a full-time basis and increasing their wage, especially in large councils such as Wollongong.
In the council's response to the panel's discussion paper, which was unanimously supported by councillors, Mr Farmer argued there was "merit in having a smaller number of better rewarded and supported elected representatives directing the council".