The end of Owen Keegan’s term as chief executive of Dublin City Council is at hand, but no permanent replacement has been chosen.
As head of the country’s largest local authority, Keegan oversees about 6,000 council employees, and a budget of €1.24 billion (for this year).
His departure is no surprise. He was appointed in September 2013, and the longest anyone can stay in the role is 10 years – so he’s got to finish up next month.
Some councillors have wondered why a replacement for Keegan wasn’t chosen earlier.
“Starting the recruitment process after his departure means that Dublin City Council will have an Interim Chief Executive for an indeterminate period of time instead of having a new Chief Executive ready to take up the position,” said then Social Democrats Councillor Karl Stanley, asking in June about the timing.
The gap in timing means someone from within the council is going to step into the top position for a while without having had to win it through a recruitment process.
In a letter to an official at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage dated 25 May, Keegan requested that the minister appoint Deputy Chief Executive Richard Shakespeare to be the one to serve as interim CEO.
An official from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage said it’s not unusual for there to be a gap between the time a local authority chief executive retires and a permanent replacement is found.
Who decided the timing?
The council’s response to Stanley’s query about the reason for the late start to the process of recruiting a permanent CEO pointed the finger elsewhere.
“The Public Appointments Service has responsibility for the recruitment process for the position of Chief Executive. The timelines associated with the campaign are managed by PAS,” it said in a written response to the councillor.
However, a spokesperson for the PAS said that “Recruitment competition timelines are agreed in collaboration with our civil and public service clients.” In this case, she said, the client is the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
A spokesperson for that department said that, “The Department sent a formal notification of the upcoming vacancy to PAS on 2nd February 2023. This letter confirmed that the effective date of the vacancy would be 10 September 2023.”
And yet, in a 3 August email, the department spokesperson said the Public Appointments Service still had not started the recruitment process.
“The Department understands that plans are underway within PAS to commence the recruitment process for a replacement permanent Chief Executive in the coming weeks,” the spokesperson said.
Dublin City Council said, in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, that there was no correspondence between it and PAS this year, about when to begin the recruitment process.
PAS responded to the same request with 19 emails and an attached letter, from between April and July.
In this correspondence, the council and the PAS are together assembling the information needed to start the recruitment process.
A major task, apparently, was to get Dublin city councillors to complete a questionnaire about what the person who gets the CEO job should be like.
On 7 June, Amy Drew, a recruitment manager at the PAS, asked councillors to “establish a sub-committee of the Corporate Policy Group to engage with the selection process for CEO”.
The task was to provide “information to the selection board on the priorities and specific challenges which may distinguish the role of Chief Executive, Dublin City Council from that of other local authorities”, , Lord Mayor Daithí de Róiste, a Fianna Fáil councillor, wrote in a 28 June letter.
Drew had asked the council to deliver the information by 16 June. But it didn’t. “The previous Lord Mayor, Councillor Carolyn [sic] Conroy initiated the process … Unfortunately she was not able to complete the process before the end of her term in office,” de Róiste wrote.
“I was appointed Lord Mayor on Monday, 26 June 2023,” he wrote. “I will endeavour to call a further meeting of the CPG to finalise the draft, which I will then forward it to you.”
Neither de Róiste nor Conroy replied to queries about the recruitment process.
On 29 June, a day after the date on de Róiste’s letter, Eileen Quinlivan, the council’s assistant chief executive for human resources, who’d identified herself contact person for the council on the recruitment process emailed Drew at the PAS.
“Unfortunately I am still awaiting sign off on the questionnaire,” Quinlivan wrote. “In the meantime to keep things moving, could you forward me the draft information booklet and we can review any parts that are not dependent on the questionnaire?”
Then, all in a rush, it seems several things got done on 6 and 7 July, before a key person, Niamh McGuinness, a talent acquisition lead at the Public Appointments Service, was going on holiday.
Not just Dublin City Council
It’s not just Dublin City Council that is looking for a new chief executive.
On 26 July, there were seven local authorities with vacant chief executive positions, said Darragh O’Brien, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, in the Dáil in response to a query from independent TD Verona Murphy.
As well as those seven, contracts for chief executives for another seven councils, including Dublin City Council, are up in the next 12 months, said Eamonn Foley, assistant principal officer in the Department of Housing, Local Government, and Heritage, in an 8 July email.
“A comprehensive process must be carried out in each case in advance of the publication of the advertisement for the post and during the competition itself which is run by the Public Appointments Service,” Foley said.
“In essence it is not unusual for there to be a gap between the time a Local Authority Chief Executive retires and a permanent appointment being made and the legislation allows for an interim appointment to be made at Chief Executive level while a vacancy exists,” he said.
In his response to Murphy’s parliamentary question, O’Brien said all seven then-vacant posts were being covered by temporary chief executives. A list showing when each vacancy arose, and when it was advertised, shows long gaps.
The vacancy at Kilkenny County Council arose on 25 August 2022, was advertised on 16 April 2023, and still no permanent replacement has been hired.
UPDATE: This article was updated on 4 Sept. 2023 at 16.26 to include the information about the letter from Keegan requesting that Shakespeare be appointed interim CEO.