A former city manager has dismissed suggestions raised during the directly elected mayor debate that council chiefs are unaccountable and answerable to no-one.
In a robust defence of the council chief role, Joe Gavin, who served as Cork city manager from 2000 to 2010, insisted that “nothing could be further from reality”.
“It is difficult to conceive of any other chief executive officer in the public or private sector who is more accountable and in such a public way as the city or county manager,” he said.
However, he said change is part and parcel of life and as long as partnership and mutual respect inform any new regime, we should continue to have vibrant local government.
He made his comments in a speech during a function at Cork City Hall last week to mark 120 years of local elections and local government.
Voters in Cork, Limerick, and Waterford will be asked if they approve of the proposal to allow the people in these cities to directly elect a mayor with executive functions.
One of the arguments of yes campaigners is that the new €130,000-a-year role will be more accountable than the current role of council chief executive.
However, Mr Gavin, who spent 45 years working in local government, said council chiefs are already held accountable and answerable through several mechanisms.
“In making planning decisions there must be compliance with policies in the development plan made by the elected members,” he said.
In allocating houses, there must be compliance with the letting scheme of priorities approved by the elected members.
“Money cannot be borrowed on behalf of the local authority without the prior approval of the elected members and land or property cannot be disposed of without formal approval of the members.”
Mr Gavin said council chiefs must adhere to the annual budget approved by the members, and that manager’s signed orders are available to the elected members and the general public.
He also said that the manager’s financial administration is examined by the local government auditor, and that all their decisions are open to examinations by the Ombudsman and are subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The manager can also be held to account at the regular council meetings which are held in public.
“The elected members have the ultimate right of suspending and removing the manager from office with ministerial consent,” said Mr Gavin.
He also said the elected members are the essence of local government and that without them, we would have local administration and not local government.