They have been the scene of fights, rancour, bizarre political coups and the sort of ideas episodes of The Simpsons have been based on.
But community councils are also pockets of micro-democracy in action.
At a time when special interest groups clog the political sphere they are the lobby groups for the ordinary citizen.
At their best they are agents of change connecting residents to politicians, at their worst they've descended into private fiefdoms.
There are seven community councils in the ACT – four on the southside and three on the northside – and each has its own distinctive flavour and style.
Some of the oldest have been established for more than 30 years, while the most recent were conceived less than five years ago.
Council leaders are drawn from a range of backgrounds: from retired Royal Australian Air Force Wing Commanders and globe-trotting public servants to tradesman, business consultants and Canberra bloggers.
Almost all have experience volunteering before joining a council and all put in heroic hours for their respective communities.
Perceptions of the councils vary.
Critics would suggest they're an unrepresentative farce.
A grey-haired drag on progress in a town that needs to come to terms with becoming a city.
Champions see them as a bulwark against gung-ho development and an important voice for residents in danger of being steamrolled by the machinery of government.
Inner South Community Council president Gary Kent said councils represented the views of ordinary people.
"Other sectors of the community and the economy are well represented by interest groups," he said.
"You've got the Property Council, you've got the Real Estate Institute, the construction industry; we felt it was a bit lopsided and we felt we were able to represent the views of ordinary people without an economic interest in the outcome."
The ISCC is an amalgam of local residents' associations unlike any other community council in Canberra. Although one of the most recently established councils, it has been an extremely effective voice for residents.
Since 2010, it has been successful in triggering inquiries into the construction industry, helping shape public transport policy and influencing major planning decisions.
While council memberships often only add up to a couple of hundred residents, the figures don't reflect the measure of influence each council can wield.
Just about every council can point to long lists of wins for their residents where major improvements in community amenities have resulted directly from their input.
North Canberra Community Council chairman Michael Hettinger said the councils allowed community members to co-operate on issues.
This gives the ACT government a sense of how things are being received at the grass roots.
"We provide the help, almost an institutional help, for people," Mr Hettinger said.
He provided a recent example where Mr Fluffy homeowners came to their November meeting to voice problems they were having with the buyback of their homes.
From that meeting, the council formed a subcommittee including the owners, and were able to make a submission to the inquiry and meet with the government.
"The owners themselves would not have necessarily been able to do that," Mr Hettinger said. "The council would not have been able to do it without the owners fronting up as well. That is a particular strength we have.
"Our weakness is the fact that we are all volunteers. We are only as good as the amount of time and hours we put in and sometimes people can get burnt out."
But councils are evolving to meet the day-to-day time constraints of their residents. Some are harnessing feedback through social media rather than relying on a monthly meeting.
Belconnen Community Council, with an executive aged from their 20s to their 70s, has just elected a popular blogger to be its chairwoman.
Tara Cheyne said traditional ways of engaging had relied on public meetings but it was not always convenient to get to those meetings.
"At the BCC in particular there has been a huge take-up of consultation and interaction on social media," she said. "I guess we want to make sure that people who can't come to our public meetings can access the council."
The move to social media has allowed far greater reach to the community and provided valuable feedback to the council.
Gungahlin Community Council also employs social media but president Ewan Brown admits to using other forms of media to test community sentiment.
"We use a variety of media to test reaction from the public to see what they think about issues," he said. "Densification of the town centre has been one issue where the council has received a reaction from the community."
He said they'd improved their communication to the community and built better relationships but still struggled to engage residents.
One issue that does mobilise large chunks of the community across all councils is planning. Many councils were formed in response to planning issues and they remain the bread-and-butter concerns of many council members across the city.
The focus on planning from community councils has also led to charges of NIMBYism. This is a misconception according to some.
"The main misconception would be that community councils are just knee-jerk anti-development types," Mr Hettinger said.
"What we are trying to do is make sure that what developments are being put in is not just for private gain but there is a public gain as well."