16th April 2011
Like the cowmen and ploughmen in Oklahoma it's vital that county councillors and their County Manager get on, the alternative is trench warfare and stalemate. While, thankfully, in most cases the relationship is good, you have the odd situation where relations are akin to a bad marriage.The recent controversy about the holiday entitlements for County Managers made for much comment among the councillors. It caused a lot of winkin' and nudgin' at council meetins while the cup of tay in the canteen became the occasion for much reminiscence. Peter Treacy reminded us of a Manager we had here quite a number of years ago who was as cantankerous a man as God ever put into shoes. "If we only knew he was entitled to all them holidays," said Peter, "we'd have insisted he took every day due to him. We'd have enjoyed the break more than he did."
There's no doubt but the Manager in question treated the councillors like a bunch of gobdaws; I know, some of you will say he was probably right but there comes a point where even the most parish pump of public representatives deserves a smidgen of respect.
Our colleague Moll Gleeson had the happy knack of gettin' up this fellas nose and enjoyed every minute of it; the more he wanted his own way the more Moll frustrated him. The man not only had a bad relationship with the councillors he had an equally poor relationship with his staff; in fact, they say when he ran out of people to fight with he fought with himself.
One of the many targets of his ire was the library service, particularly the mobile library; he saw it as a complete waste of money. In contrast, councillors of all makes and models saw it as great service.
One particular year when money was very tight he announced his intention to close the mobile service, "Why should I have to pay to have Mills & Boon rubbish delivered to an army of lazy women who'd be better occupied doin' a decent day's work," he said.
Moll Gleeson was at his throat in seconds describin'him as "a philistine, an ignoramus and a male chauvinist pig." The row made headlines in the local media but the Manager only became more determined.
At the openin' of the next council meetin' he announced his decision to sell the mobile library vehicle and replace it with a new dump lorry. This latest move pressed Moll's thermo-nuclear button and she launched a campaign that surpassed even her own expectations. She spent three weeks drivin' around the county after the library van and spoke to every customer to alert them to the Manager's plans to deprive them of their beloved books.
The Mills & Boon brigade might have seemed like a quiet lot until 255 of them descended on County Hall and occupied the county Manager's office. They arrived dressed as characters from their romantic novels in a collection of costumes you wouldn't see at a fancy dress ball; there were dodgy lookin' nurses, floozies in pink boas, middle aged women dressed as Clark Gable lookalikes and among them a man whose passion for romantic novels and Agatha Christie murder mysteries was well known. He was rigged out as a very passable Hercule Poirot. They held a 'read-in' of trashy novels and promised it would go on until the Manager changed his mind.
But he was not for turnin' and sent for the guards to evict the bookworms. However, his request fell on deaf ears as the Chief Super didn't fancy the prospect of his forces appearin' on national and international media as they baton charged what looked like members of the local book club. The whole affair made world headlines and the longer the crisis went on the more the Manager dug in his heels. An impasse ensued that was only broken when the Minister himself intervened and told the besieged official to take a long holiday. He further told him that when he returned he was to announce long term funding for the mobile library service and if he didn't he'd find his long-term prospects in local government consigned to the administrative equivalent of a dump truck.
I wouldn't be in too much of a hurry to get up on a high horse about the length of holidays taken by County Managers; in some cases the council is better off payin' them to stay away.