Northern Ireland

Interim chief executive appointed at controversial council

Valerie Watts has been named the new interim chief executive of MEA council. Picture Mal McCann
Valerie Watts has been named the new interim chief executive of MEA council. Picture Mal McCann

MID and East Antrim Borough Council has appointed a new interim chief executive.

Valerie Watts will take on the position from June 13, acting as the council’s second recruit since February for this role.

Mrs Watts is coming out of retirement in accepting the role. She had stepped down as chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board in 2020.

Her work in the public sector, both in the north and in Scotland, has spanned 40 years. Past experiences include chief executive of Aberdeen City Council (2011-2014) and as town clerk and chief executive of Derry City Council (2009-2011).

It has been confirmed that Mrs Watts is set to earn a salary of £116,000 in her new role.

The council’s first appointment, Mark Parkinson, was reported to have been employed at a rate of £1,060 per day. He quit three weeks into the job due to ill health.

Mid and East Antrim Borough council has experienced months of controversy; Police had raided offices in Ballymena last year, investigating suspected misconduct in public office.

Chief Executive Anne Donaghy was also suspended from her post in December following complaints of bullying and harassment.

Ms Donaghy strongly denied any wrongdoing and is currently pursuing legal action against the council onthe grounds of discrimination.

Controversy escalated last year after a decision was made to withdraw staff conducting Brexit-related checks at Larne Port.

Ms Donaghy had faced criticism at the time regarding a letter she sent to the British Government raising her concerns on the potocol.

Elsewhere, deputy chief executive Louise Kennedy left the council in May having been on sick leave since last year.

It has also been revealed that a second senior director, Nicola Rowles, is launching legal action against the council. Legal representatives for Ms Rowles say that she does not want to reveal the nature of her complaint.

Newly-appointed mayor, Alliance Party’s Noel Williams, welcomed Mrs Watts’ recruitment, saying that she “has an extensive track record of transformation within leadership roles across the public sector”.