City Hall officials need to work more closely with councillors

Rejection of the recent Road Traffic (Special Speed Limit) Bye-Laws must serve as a warning for the future

Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Insider has been a keen observer of activities in City Hall for two decades and, regardless of what the public think, it is always best for Galway when there is a good working relationship between the elected members and senior management.

It is fair to say this relationship has been strained for some time now. Insider is unclear on exactly why, but feels that the senior management in the Galway City Council could handle matters better on occasion. Not all of the councillors cover themselves in glory all of the time, either, but what is often forgotten is, in the majority of votes, a simple majority of 10 carries the day.

Councillors v officials

At a recent city council meeting, the Road Traffic (Special Speed Limit ) Bye-Laws were on the agenda. A lot of work went into this by officials, carried out over the previous couple of years, with every road in the city examined, the public having made submissions, and various meetings occurring to thrash the issues out.

A lot of time spent; even more money spent. National legislation dictates that the council must accept or reject all the proposals. Councillors cannot make any changes, so it all passes, or nothing passes. It is far from ideal but that is the system and all involved are clear on it.

At the meeting, the report was presented by officials from the transportation unit. The officials were in favour of it and wanted it adopted and implemented. The councillors had concerns. Many spoke out at the meeting about those concerns and their difficulty in adopting the new report. Officials were now on edge as they could feel the room was not with them.

Cllr Collette Connolly then formally proposed that the report be rejected. Cllr MJ Crowe seconded this proposal. If the council officials were worried before this, then alarm bells should have now been ringing - it is rare that Cllr Crowe would second a proposal from Cllr Connolly. Plus, the Fianna Fáil group almost always all voted in sync and if Crowe was seconding this, the other four were probably going with him. Suddenly there were six.

Fine Gael Cllr Eddie Hoare, who is chair of the transportation committee, proposed to accept the report. Neither of his Fine Gael colleagues seemed eager to row in behind him, so Independent Galway City East councillor, Declan McDonnell seconded his proposal. It was clear Cllr Hoare was unable to bring his Fine Gael colleagues with him and now there was a clear eight against adopting the report. Officials were now in serious trouble.

'To my amazement each councillor in turn reported that there was no dialogue or soundings prior to the meeting - therein lies the problem'

The Mayor, Cllr Mike Cubbard, also raised concerns and it was game over. An initial vote saw Cllr Collette Connolly proposal carried 10 votes to eight. The final vote on her proposal saw it pass by 12 votes to six. Another two councillors had come over to that side. All in all, it was a very bad day for the management and staff of the transportation unit in City Hall.

More cooperation needed

Insider highlights this issue to show the reader some of the intricacies of what goes on between officials and the elected members. The management, and in particular the transportation unit, wanted this report adopted and become law. It was lost because of the present poor working relationship between both sides. Insider recalls the more the debate went on at that meeting the more effort officials put in to trying to persuade councillors that these new speed limits were good for Galway.

'Officials to start working closer with these groupings, sound them out early in the process, and bring them along'

In reality, it was too late. Post the meeting Insider contacted a broad selection of councillors to ask how much time they spent discussing and going through the detail and proposals in the report with officials before the meeting. To my amazement each councillor in turn reported that there was no dialogue or soundings prior to the meeting - therein lies the problem.

One councillor stated to Insider: "They (City Hall officials ) didn’t even pick up the phone for a chat about it, plus, any time I contact the transportation unit about an issue they never help. I can’t get a pothole filled. I wasn’t going to vote for it."

The middle ground

Some years ago, in the Dáil, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, in a speech said, despite everything that had happened, the centre in Irish politics was holding up well. He was right and based on the Sunday Business Post/Red C Poll last Sunday is still right. The centre ground among the elected members on Galway City Council is Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and some Independents. Between them there are at least 12, maybe 13. Officials need the middle ground as it has served Galway well.

As stated above a simple majority of 10, or even nine with the mayor as he has a casting vote if there is a tie, is what is required. Insider advises the officials to start working closer with these groupings, sound them out early in the process, and bring them along. Fill in a few potholes quicker, and work with them on the small things.

The small things matter. As the late former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds said one time: "It’s the small things that trip you up." Officials should have learned that by now. There should not be a repeat and for one reason only, it is not in the best interests of the people of the city.

 

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