A county council general manager discredited his position by “throwing the weight” in a row with a local radio station, it was found.
The Civil Service Standards Board (SIPO) discovered yesterday that Wexford County Council CEO Tom Enright broke ethics rules after threatening to take advertising revenue from South East Radio as a result of ‘a disagreement.
He made the threat because he believed that some coverage was unfair to the board.
The council is the station’s main advertising client, the report notes. Three complaints were filed with SIPO by Karl Fitzpatrick, a local businessman and host of the station’s Business Matters program, following two emails sent by Mr. Enright, who claimed he had been treated unfairly by the station. station.
All three complaints were upheld against Mr. Enright by SIPO, which said his actions were “not the appropriate remedy and amounted to overreaction and an inappropriate mix of problems.”
SIPO also said its actions “fall short of what is expected of a person in their position, in terms of content, tone, style and language.”
The row began on March 5, 2019, when Mr. Fitzpatrick appeared on the Morning Mix show, where he discussed matters relating to the board. Mr Enright sent a statement to the station, which went on air the next day, saying the contribution was “unfairly critical of the board and omitted relevant facts”.
The station’s general manager, Eamonn Buttle, was contacted by Mr Enright about this and, following a meeting on March 13 regarding his complaint, Mr Buttle considered the matter closed. However, on June 14, 2019, Mr. Fitzpatrick emailed Mr. Enright to tell him that he had been told that Mr. Enright’s conduct violated ethics law and that he had the intends to file a complaint with the Wexford County Council Ethics Register.
In August 2019, Mr Enright complained to the station that two interviews on Business Matters this month had been edited to remove favorable coverage from the board.
These talks are noted as rekindling the dispute and prompted two heated emails from Mr Enright, which SIPO’s complaint centered on.
In the emails, Mr. Enright told senior management that the board was “reviewing [its] commercial relationship with the station. He said the station facilitates inaccurate and damaging comments on the council’s initiatives.
Mr Enright said council was unwilling to continue supporting a station that allowed “individuals to promote their own personal agenda.”
He added: “We [Wexford County Council] have spent over € 160,000 with SE Radio in the last 18 months. Lots of money for a radio station that facilitates inaccurate and damaging comments on the positive initiatives the council and others are trying to achieve in order to make Wexford a better place. I have to tell you that a lot of people are disgusted by this and have told me so.
The next day Mr Enright said he was “threatened with legal action, bullying tactics, censorship of podcasts and skewed editing of interviews that should have reflected the advice,” which cropped up “in because of a personal vendetta of your journalist against me and the council ”.
Mr Enright then referred to the “inaccurate and damaging commentary”, the “attack on the council’s economic strategy by your reporter last March”, the August interviews and the “legal threat from your reporter” which “refers to to the legislation which deals with corruption in the public service ”.
The letter added that as a result, “it is with regret that we must end our commercial relationship with you”.
The two emails, according to SIPO, “constituted an inappropriate amalgamation of the issues, on the one hand, of the council’s coverage on South East Radio and the dispute between Mr. Enright and Mr. Fitzpatrick, and on the other, the council’s commercial relations with the station ”.
In this way, Mr. Enright abused the council’s position as the station’s primary announcer, “throwing the weight” of the council’s purse, SIPO found.
South East Radio responded to the complaints by offering to have the matter investigated by the regulator and an independent investigator, which Mr. Enright satisfied, and the threats “completely dispelled,” the report notes.
Mr Buttle told the inquest that he believed the relationship between the station and the council had suffered and that the station had not subsequently received as much advertising revenue from the council as it could have. expect it.
In 2019, the station received around € 63,000 but this amount fell to € 46,000 in 2020.
Mr Buttle said he believed the pandemic would have resulted in an increase in advertising, not a decrease, and attributed the reduction to the dispute with Mr Enright.
In a statement last night, Mr Enright said he was “extremely disappointed” with the findings, which he called “flawed and disproportionate”.
He said he was “exploring all available options, including legal options, and consulting with my legal advisers.”
He said he acted in “good faith and in the best interests of Wexford County Council”. The report has been sent to the chairman of Wexford County Council and will be considered by councilors.