Wexford County Council members are to hold a special meeting on Friday to discuss findings of the Standards of Public Office Commission which has said the council's chief-executive failed to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest when he sent emails to a local radio station threatening to withdraw advertising.
The issue in relation to Tom Enright was on the agenda at this afternoon’s monthly meeting of the council, following a public hearing last November after a complaint made by Wexford businessman Karl Fitzpatrick to the SIPO and a report issued on Friday by the commission.
Council cathaoirleach, Cllr Barbara-Anne Murphy, said she had obtained legal advice in relation to the matter over the weekend and, in keeping with this advice which had been made available to members, she intended to defer discussion of the issue to a special council meeting on Friday.
This was agreed by members with Cllrs Michael Whelan and Ger Carthy calling for the meeting to be held "in person" and not online.
County secretary David Minogue said that this should be possible under current regulations on meetings.
Mr Fitzpatrick's complaint centred on emails sent in 2019 by Mr Enright to South East Radio, after Mr Fitzpatrick criticised an alleged lack of IDA investment in the Wexford area.
Tom Enright emailed the radio station's general manager in August of 2019 and said that Wexford County Council was "reviewing" its commercial relationship with the station and that the council did not wish to continue supporting a station that was allowing "individuals... to promote their own personal agenda".
This followed a programme in March of that year in which Mr Fitzpatrick expressed views on various matters relating to the county council. A meeting was subsequently held between Mr Enright and the station managing director, and the council chief said that a statement he had issued to the station following Mr Fitzpatrick's criticisms was not uploaded as a podcast on the station's website. This was because of a technical issue, the station manager Eamon Buttle said, and the latter thought that the matter was closed following the meeting.
It was after emails from Mr Enright in August that Mr Fitzpatrick made a complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission.
In its report following last November's hearing, SIPO said that Mr Enright "failed to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern" for the public interest when he sent the emails in August of 2019. The tone of a second email, in which Mr Enright accused the station of "censorship" and described Mr Fitzpatrick of having a "personal vendetta" against him was "particularly emotive and unbecoming of a person in such a senior role," SIPO said.
It also found that Mr Enright had "failed to have regard to and be guided by the Code of Conduct for Employees" by sending the emails.
The commission noted that there was "no suggestion of corruption or deception" in Mr Enright's conduct and pointed out that the station managing director had described him as "an honourable man".
The commission also said there was no doubting Mr Enright's "passion and drive for Wexford" but said it was incumbent on someone in his position to maintain "appropriate standards".
Members of Wexford County Council discussed the findings at their monthly meeting today and some have already spoken of their support for the Chief Executive.
In a statement, Mr Enright said he was "extremely disappointed" with the commission's findings which he described as "flawed and disproportionate". He said he is currently exploring all available options "including legal options" and consulting with his legal advisers in that regard.
"My sole motivation in the engagement with South East Radio was to get fair recognition for the hard work of councillors, council staff and others in attracting new business and employment to Wexford," he said, adding that he acted at all times "in good faith" and in the interest of the council.
Mr Enright said he believes the findings have "far-reaching implications" for all senior local government officials when it comes to protecting the interests of a public authority.
In a statement, Mr Fitzpatrick welcomed the decision of the Standards in Public Office Commission and said that he made his complaint to the commission "to ensure that nobody else would be subjected to this treatment by Mr Enright".
He said he attempted to have the matter resolved locally, but encountered "significant barriers" and said he was left with no option but to go to the SIPOC.
"I am pleased that the Commission has found that my complaint was warranted," he said.