Eoghan Dalton Reports
A large majority of Councillors have signalled their opposition to the proposal for Waterford city and county to have a directly elected mayor (DEM). Of the 19 members present at last Thursday’s Council meeting, 13 voted in favour of an emergency motion stating the following: “Having had no prior consultation, input, or interaction on the Minister’s directly elected mayors with executive functions and having read and heard from the executive the detailed policy proposals, this Council wishes to state its opposition to the directly elected mayors current proposal.”
Two Councillors voted against the motion while another four abstained. Another 13 Councillors were absent for the vote, however it is understood many of the Councillors who were absent also indicated an intention to vote in opposition to the directly elected mayor position.
Dungarvan’s Cllr Damien Geoghegan (FG) said the proposal is ill-conceived, ill-thought out and too expensive.Under the Government proposals the new mayor would receive a salary of €130,000 a year given the extended executive powers and responsibilities and can also appoint two advisors.
The costs of running the offices of directly elected mayors could be between €313,000 and €450,000 annually.Cllr John Hearne (SF), speaking in favour of the Government’s proposal, said it could be a great leap for democracy:“For years I’ve heard Councillors complaining about the lack of power and blaming the management here saying that they can’t make decisions, and saying that if they could make decisions, they would make them differently.
“For the first time, when we’re asked to step up and take the steering wheel of the bus it amazes me that so many Councillors are running to the back of the bus instead of taking charge of our own destiny.”Cllr Hearne told the chamber that there’s the potential to sack the Mayor if Councillors are unhappy with their performance. “He’s accountable. There was never a problem in this city council when mayors were electing each other and filling their own pockets. For people to have the right to decide who is their leader in this city is an absolutely phenomenal step forward,” he said. The City South representative added that a mayor would not be required to take a driver for the role, and that he would use his bike if elected.
A fear that the position would be anti-democratic and undermine the role of Councillors was also expressed, as a simple majority would no longer be needed to block a budget.
Cllr Damien Geoghegan said: “The reality is you could have two-thirds of this Council opposed to a budget in any given year, and the Mayor sitting up there with ten Councillors supporting him could drive through a budget. “That’s anti-democratic and I believe it should be rejected on that basis.”This was supported by Cllr Seán Reinhardt (Ind), who said it would be introducing an “autocratic” system and be tantamount to having people “democratically endorse a dictator”.
However, City Cllr John Cummins (FG) felt this concern is overstated. He pointed to how a budget has only ever failed to pass once in the past 60 years, despite close calls over the years. “It is arguable that the current legislation is even more arbitrary because a democratically elected council can be disbanded entirely and replaced by one person if they fail to pass a budget by majority,” he told The Munster Express. “The mandate that the DEM would have, having being elected by the entire population of Waterford City and County, has to be recognised and therefore he/she does have additional weighting when it comes to budget time however you could argue that is the case presently with regards to the CEO anyway because he proposes a budget following extensive consultation with the elected council. I don’t see the process being very different in the event that a DEM is in situ.”