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Are councillors being backed into a corner over parking charges?

De Facto

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

The Westport on-street car parking charges proposal hasn’t gone away. Some of the issues around the on-street parking charges raise some element of concern. A meeting of West Mayo Municipal District, due to have taken place on Monday last week, was postponed. The manner of this postponement raises questions. Who made the decision? And why?
The easy answer is that a councillor was ‘unavailable’ to attend so the meeting was postponed. Is it protocol or has it always been the case that when a councillor is unable to attend a meeting it is postponed? How many times has this happened in the past?
Or, as one councillor claimed, is the real reason because Mayo County Council management did not have enough votes to push through their plan to introduce on-street parking charges in Westport? If this is the reason then it raises serious questions about the role of unelected council officials as against the democratically elected councillors.  
Can council management push for the postponement of a local authority meeting? If so, what are the circumstances? Councillors will have to consult their municipal colleagues in LAMA (Local Authority Members Association) and/or the Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government for advice.
Councillors must approve the car parking charges before they can be introduced. Without the councillors’ approval, management cannot implement the charges. That is one of the ‘rules’ of local government. That is how it works.
Apart from the decision to postpone the meeting, it is equally disconcerting that council management has decided to withhold payment of the General Maintenance Allocation (GMA), payable to many voluntary groups, until the parking charges are approved. Under what authority is this being done? If council management can effectively hold a gun to councillors’ heads until councillors toe the line, where is democracy? Is that legal? Are councillors just like rubber stamps?
This borders on bullyboy tactics, and it is a serious affront to local democracy. It is an insult to both councillors and the people who elect them to be their public representatives. The council management is using the withholding of the GMA as a whip to beat the councillors. Is this the tail wagging the dog? What is going on within local authorities if this scenario prevails and is allowed to continue?
We had a public consultation on the introduction of on-street car parking charges in Westport. It was reported in this paper last week that 76 public submissions were received and ‘some 50 of the submissions have made particular reference to the fact that on-street parking charges would have a negative impact on businesses in Westport’. Does this not count for anything, or was the public consultation a mere box-ticking exercise carried out under the guise of local authority legal procedural requirements?     
My esteemed newspaper colleague, Áine Ryan, stated in last week’s Mayo News that it is ‘past time to pay for parking in Westport’. I disagree, on every front. Firstly, parking charges are in place in Westport already, in the car parks. Secondly, to propose on-street charges as an issue of fairness is, to my mind, simply repeating the mantra of some council officials.
The on-street parking charges proposal is a soft option for council management. Why do they not highlight any shortfall in allocations to local government from Government? Tell us what the real issue is. If it is lack of support from central Government then say it. Stop the lazy, desktop thinking that moves the problem to the pockets of citizens. Council staff have free, taxpayer-funded parking at their offices!
It would help if Mayo County Council regularly emptied the parking machines. How long were parking machines out of action in Murrisk car park this year because they were full? How many were not working because they were ‘full’? How much revenue was lost to council coffers?
There is another issue, councillors have been told ad nauseam that they have no lobbying role in planning decisions. Minister Phelan told Mayo County Councillors as much recently. By the same token, can council officials lobby support or try to influence councillors to approve proposals, like the introduction of on-street parking charges? Sauce, goose, gander!

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