THROUGH building connections with different organisations Ennis’ new town clerk Leonard Cleary believes “we can move mountains for Ennis”.
Leonard, who has joined Ennis Town Council as town clerk, says “This is a unique and interesting time to join Ennis Town Council, during a recession and with major change on the local government horizon imminent”.
The Corofin father of four began his career with local government in 1997. He spent the last five years a human resources manager for Clare local authorities and prior to that worked in the Community and Enterprise Department with the County Development Board, the RAPID programme in Ennis and also Kilrush Town Council where he worked as development and marketing officer. Before working with the local authority, he worked in the community tourism sector.
He has studied at NUI Maynooth, NUI Galway, UCC and just a week before joining Ennis Town Council, he graduated with a Masters in Business from DCU. He has also taken the opportunity to study local government through the Institute of Public Administration.
“I’ve been around the block a bit on the academic side but I am more of an applied person,” he insists. “I’m particularly interested in applying some of the perspectives and theories from the masters in business to practical, on-the-ground situations.”
Speaking about his approach to his new role, he says, “My style is to try and make connections between various key stakeholders in Ennis town and electoral area; ranging from the local authority, statutory agencies, the community and voluntary sector and the business community. I want to make connections and achieve a more integrated approach to how local authority services fit into the wider Ennis community. I see huge opportunities for Ennis Town Council to work with voluntary bodies such as the business community, Tidy Towns and other organisations.
“I see the need to invest heavily in building those relationships and making those connections. And where we have blockages between any of the stakeholders, we need to address them. Each of us has something to contribute to the solution so that connections can be achieved. If we can achieve this, we can move mountains for Ennis.”
A good example of working together in recent times has been the Christmas initiative to bring more shoppers to Ennis, he explains. “This process of bringing together the energies of the elected members, the business community and the wider community in order to achieve a connection is, I believe, a strong foundation for working together in the future. It’s lovely to have free parking and street lights but the important thing is that we made that connection, so that when the bigger projects come, we will have a more firm foundation to build upon. And the bigger projects will come.”
As well as building relationships with external organisations, connections internally within the local authority are also important, he stresses. “The customer doesn’t mind how local authority services are delivered, they don’t care whether the county or town gives us the water, they just want the service delivered. And it’s for us to make the connections between the various town council and county teams to deliver a good service to the customer.”
Speaking about the role of the local authority, particularly in these recessionary times, he says, “The local authority is uniquely positioned having a democratic mandate through the elected members. It’s well positioned to engage with all statutory bodies and agencies in order to develop Ennis Town and County Clare.
“In developing a town and a county, this also requires management and regulation, in particular during the times of recession. We are particularly challenged to find new and creative solutions to issues and problems that arise and my experience has been that the diversity of skills within the local authority and professional backgrounds facilitates a broader perspective and richness in identifying solutions.
“In the current climate, the budget challenges of managing during a recession mean that some services have to be prioritised over others and my experience is that staff of the local authority have been willing to stretch their performance to try to continue to deliver services above and beyond their call of duty. Having spent two years doing an MBA, where the emphasis is all about profit, when applying that to a local authority sector, it’s about trying to achieve a quality service through the most prudent use of resources. Of course, we are expecting more from staff and it means that sometimes in delivering a service that there is a challenge to the public to say we cannot deliver whatever it is. But that’s delivering to the customer too because the rates customer can only pay so much, it’s about trying to achieve balance.”
There have been concerns that the programme for local government reform could lead to the abolition of town councils. When asked about this, Leonard says, “The programme for reform of local government has been ongoing for the last number of decades with a particular focus in the last 15 years. During the period of my employment, I have seen changes in the way our business is organised and in the way we deliver services. The core traditional functions have remained and new expanded functions in the broader area of community and enterprise have been fulfilled in new ways. I see the current government proposals in relation to reform of local government as a continuation of that process really.
“There are government proposals in relation to the future of town councils. My vision is that whatever government decision is implemented, there will have to be a dedicated staff resource to Ennis Town focused on delivering on the key objectives of our Ennis and Environs plan and Ennis hub strategy. I view the elected members as making a huge contribution in representing the views of wider society in order to plan and develop policy for Ennis Town. If reform were to change the town council structure, this important role of the input of elected representatives would have to continue in a new but meaningful way.”
During his time with Ennis Town Council, he has been most impressed with a number of initiatives in recent months. Included in that is the Ennis 2020 Hub Strategy visioning exercise. “There are positive opportunities through the Ennis Hub Town Strategy and the Ennis and Environs plan to capture our vision through identified tangible goals that we need to make a reality. It’s for us to make those goals a reality, although these need to be practical, meaningful and achievable projects for Ennis.”
The adoption of Budget 2012 was another highlight for him. “We were able to achieve a balanced budget and while it did require rebalancing of some service priorities, we were able to provide for the resourcing of key services in 2012 for customers. I have been particularly impressed by the shared vision of the elected members, the staff and the wider community on placing the focus on the customer at the centre of our services.
“In the future, we will have to explore new ways of listening to what the customer wants and within the resources we have available, we will have to adjust how we meet those customer needs. We need to listen in new ways to what our customers are asking us to provide in projects such as pedestrianisation, tourism development and social inclusion.”
Leonard acknowledged the “Trojan work” of his predecessors Eddie Power, Simon Moroney and Tomás Ryan. “All previous town clerks have worked closely with the Ennis Town Manager, elected members and wider staff team and I would hope to continue to work as part of the teams they have built and developed. I have also had the opportunity to work with Ger Dollard, Tom Coughlan, Tom Dowling and Roibeard O’Ceallaigh, the previous and current town managers. I was always impressed by their vision for Ennis and the energy they invested in delivering on that vision and particularly on key strategic projects for Ennis.”