The new chairman of the Institute of Directors in the West Midlands last night became the latest senior business figure to accuse Birmingham City Council of setting its sights too low in its search for a new chief executive.
John James said council leaders were attempting to "get someone on the cheap" by pegging the salary for the biggest job in British local government at about £195,000.
Mr James, who took over the IoD role on January 1, claimed no one of the right calibre from either the public or private sector would be interested in the job under such circumstances. Officials from smaller local authorities would apply but they would not be capable of giving the charismatic leadership on the world stage that Birmingham required, he added.
There was an absence of leadership skills in Birmingham and the council should be prepared to pay "whatever it takes" to get the right person, Mr James said.
His intervention came in what appeared to be a concerted effort by elements within the business community to force the council to rethink the way it is going about recruiting a new chief.
Shortly before Christmas Simon Murphy, the chief executive of Birmingham Forward, the professional services lobby group, said the council should be prepared to pay up to £250,000 for the right person.
Mr James's remarks were dismissed as "rent a quote" comments by Alan Rudge, the city council cabinet member for human resources who is leading the search for a new chief executive.
Coun Rudge (Con Sutton Vesey) said Birmingham should not seek to hire the "biggest mouth in industry" but should consider basic civil service criteria for recruiting public authority officials.
He added: "We shall proceed in a sensible and constructive way.
"There is a basic figure but if someone came along who we thought was perfect for the job we would be open minded.
"We don't want to overpay and we don't want to underpay either."
Coun Rudge said the IoD and Birmingham Forward appeared to be confusing the role of chief executive with that of the leader of the council.
"The council leader was responsible for deciding policy and would continue to be the "public face of Birmingham", he added.
Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the city's largest business group, last night called for calm.
A spokesman said: "We are fully confident that the city council will recruit the best possible person within the constraints of market forces and budgets to what is the top job in local government.
"Any further speculation is unhelpful for Birmingham and its citizens."
Mr James said the council appeared to believe it could find someone to do the job for the love of Birmingham. But this was a naive approach that would not attract the best applicants.
Mr James added: "Running Birmingham is a very big job and it needs a very big person to do it.
"The starting point must be to get the best person for the job and pay whatever you have to pay to get that person."
Mr James believes Birmingham should be aiming to recruit someone in the mould of Sir Digby Jones, the director-general of the CBI, or even tempt back Sir Michael Lyons, a former council chief executive who left Birmingham in 2001.
He added: "We are weak in leadership in the city at the moment.
"We need someone like Digby or even Michael Lyons, who was a strong chief executive and gave considerable direction to the city particularly over the Bullring development.
"We need a visible advocate for the city at a national and international level.
"That's where we need a strong chief executive who can provide leadership and direct the politicians wherever possible.
"It's a position where you can effectively become a figurehead for the city in an apolitical way."
"We won't get that sort of person for a package of under £200,000."