Bid to force referendum over Mayor

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A CAMPAIGNING resident is hoping to force a mayoral referendum after submitting a petition backed by thousands of people.

More than 3,500 people have signed Christine Blakey’s petition calling for a referendum on the role of directly-elected mayor in Hartlepool.

Ms Blakey, Hartlepool Borough Council a resident representative, launched the petition through her Hear ‘n’ Hartlepool group and has spent the past few months collecting signatures.

Council chiefs are now sifting through the petition to verify the signatures.

If the petition is valid then a referendum must be held within six months and it could be called for next May, to coincide with the all-out local elections.

Town mayor Stuart Drummond, who became the first elected mayor in May 2002, has welcomed the chance for people to have their say.

Ms Blakey, a mum-of-one from the Bishop Cuthbert estate, said: “A referendum gives people the chance to state what they want in their council.

“Many people are cheesed off with the system at the moment.

“This petition demonstrates that the people of Hartlepool are extremely concerned and they want to be listened to.”

Even if the petition is invalid the Secretary of State can still order a referendum if there is enough public support.

If the current mayor and cabinet committee system is scrapped, the alternatives include a leader and cabinet model or a committee system, subject to consultation.

Five per cent of the population, or 3,467 people, need to sign a petition to force a referendum.

A referendum about the governance of the council can only be held once every 10 years.

Mayor Drummond, who was elected for the third successive time in 2009, said: “It is important to give people the choice as long as they are aware of the alternative methods.

“The whole idea of the current system is that there is more accountability and to encourage more involvement in the decision making process.

“I wholeheartedly support that.”

The petition was first launched on the back of the £10,795 pay rise given to former council chief executive Paul Walker, which took his salary to £168,000 at a time when the council was making cuts.

Councillors voted to take no action over the petition when it was first submitted with 1,700 signatures in August.

But Ms Blakey has since added more names in a bid to force a referendum.

As well as calling for a referendum, the petition raised concerns about the Tall Ships Races budget deficit and calls for public money to be spent differently.

A council spokesman said: “We can confirm that we received a petition from Christine Blakey on October 21 seeking a Mayoral Referendum.

“The council has one month from the date the petition was submitted to verify whether or not it meets the petition criteria set down by the Government.”