Rezoning vote may have breached ethics

It looks like Killarney may be having second thoughts about their rezoning, it may breach ethics guidelines:

The ethics registrar for local authorities in Kerry, John Flynn, has written to the Killarney town manager and mayor informing them of “a possible contravention” of the Local Government Act in relation to recent rezoning of land around the Gleneagle Hotel.

Fianna Fail mayor Cllr Tom Doherty confirmed yesterday he had received the letter relating to FF councillor Patrick O’Donoghue, managing director of the Gleneagle Group and a Failte Ireland director, and Fine Gael councillor Sheila Casey, an employee of the Gleneagle Group.

He said he was unsure of the exact procedure to be followed but would be consulting the Local Government Act and other relevant legislation as well as town council officials.

At the March monthly meeting, councillors voted by a majority to rezone the Gleneagle lands to town centre use against the advice of planners who warned it would change the whole balance of the town and fly in the face of existing plans. Just two councillors voted against the rezoning and the mayor abstained.

Cllr O’Donoghue declared his interest in the matter and abstained from discussion and from the votes on the motion to rezone his family lands. However, he remained at his seat in the council chamber throughout.

One councillor told the meeting he had been invited to a meeting by Cllr O’Donoghue in the latter’s “capacity as manager of the complex” to discuss the issue.

Cllr Casey was one of five councillors to sign the rezoning motion and she voted in favour of it. Under the Local Government Act 2001, councillors are obliged to disclose the nature of an interest, and to withdraw altogether from a meeting during the discussion. They are also asked to refrain from seeking to influence a decision which is of benefit to them.

The Code of Conduct for Councillors, issued in June 2004 to supplement the Act, says councillors should be especially careful of conflict of interest in planning matters.

It says the test to be applied by a councillor in a possible conflict of interest is whether a member of the public “would reasonably think that the interest concerned might influence the person in the performance of his or her functions”. It adds: “It is important to ensure as well as the avoidance of actual impropriety, occasions for suspicion and appearance of improper conduct are also avoided in case of private or personal interests.”

The manager and mayor of Killarney will have to decide if an investigation is to take place. Breach of the ethics legislation can result in disciplinary action, prosecution in the courts and, on conviction, fines of €1,500 and disqualification from the council.

One thought on “Rezoning vote may have breached ethics”

  1. Given Sheila’s remarks to the effect that it never occurred to her that there might be a conflict of interest in her roles as an employee of the Gleneagle and a councillor with oversight of planning matters, can we assume that she is not, in fact, “a reasonable person”?

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