Mexican standoff – plans to force Hartlepool mayor to resign blocked by sunshine holiday

UNDER PRESSURE: The Mayor of Hartlepool Stephen Akers-Belcher.

UNDER PRESSURE: The Mayor of Hartlepool Stephen Akers-Belcher.

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COUNCILLORS have called for an extraordinary meeting to be held to force Hartlepool’s mayor to step down from his position.

But in a bizarre loophole, it has emerged that any meeting to discuss Coun Stephen Akers-Belcher’s future can only be held with the blessing of the ceremonial mayor himself – who is on a sunshine break in Mexico.

The Lord-Lieutenan of County Durham Val Snowdon is greeted by The Mayor of Hartlepool Stephen Akers-Belcher (right) and his escort Christopher Akers-Belcher to St. George's United Reform Church

The Lord-Lieutenan of County Durham Val Snowdon is greeted by The Mayor of Hartlepool Stephen Akers-Belcher (right) and his escort Christopher Akers-Belcher to St. George's United Reform Church

Coun Akers-Belcher has been at the centre of a storm over the last few days after revelations that he had been sacked from his role as a senior care manager with Newcastle City Council for gross misconduct.

Five councillors teamed up to call for an extraordinary meeting to be held to discuss the matter, but they were shocked to learn that the only person who could give such a meeting the green light was Coun Akers-Belcher.

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But after he jetted off on a holiday to central America yesterday with his civil partner, council leader Christopher Akers-Belcher, the councillors have been left frustrated and will have to wait until he returns to the UK to hear whether their request for a meeting will be granted.

The letter from independent Labour councillor Jonathan Brash, independent Paul Thompson and Putting Hartlepool First trio Geoff Lilley, Keith Dawkins and David Riddle was sent into the Civic Centre yesterday.

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In normal circumstances the request for a meeting would have been sent to the ceremonial mayor, but as he is out of the country it was passed to the council’s Chief Solicitor Peter Devlin.

The five councillors asked for a meeting to call for him to stand down until the matter is brought to a close.

Coun Akers-Belcher has vowed to clear his name through an appeal against his former employers on Tyneside.

But the councillors are pushing for the mayor to relinquish his role while the appeal into his sacking is carried out, suggesting Deputy Ceremonial Mayor Mary Fleet steps into the breach in the meantime.

They say Coun Akers-Belcher should be reinstated should the appeal come back in his favour - but call for a vote of no confidence to be recorded should the decision to sack him be upheld.

Meanwhile, the civic leaders have been slammed for taking a sunshine break at a time when Hartlepool Borough Council is facing “the biggest crisis in its history”.

The duo’s holiday, and the timing of it, has angered Coun Thompson, independent representative for the Seaton ward.

Coun Thompson said: “There are a few things about this holiday which have quite frankly disgusted me.

“I think it shows the arrogance of our civic leaders when they can just jet off to sunnier climes at a time when the authority which they run is facing arguably the biggest crisis in its history.

“The whole saga of the mayor being sacked is embarrassing, maybe he should have stayed at home to concentrate on trying to restore the relationship with Newcastle City Council which has been badly damaged by this whole episode.”

In a stinging blast, Coun Thompson added: “In my opinion the town will be better run while they are away.”

The council leader and ceremonial mayor responded to Coun Thompson’s claims by insisting it was “business as usual” for the local authority despite their absence.

The pair were unavailable to comment on the calls for a meeting as they had left the country when the letter was submitted.

But in a statement released before they left, they said: “It is very much business as usual for the council.

“Instead of his gratuitous carping from the sidelines, Councillor Thompson’s time and efforts would be far better spent in working with the rest of us on the many major projects to improve our town and make life better for its residents.

“Our holiday was booked over a year ago and, as we are sure people will appreciate, everyone is entitled to take a holiday.

“Thanks to the excellent working partnership between councillors and the council’s officers, the council will continue to run very smoothly while we are away.”

A spokesman for Hartlepool Council said: “The council has received a signed motion to hold an extraordinary meeting.

“The motion contains provisions which are beyond the powers of the council – namely to suspend the Ceremonial Mayor/Chair of Council – and the advice of our Chief Solicitor is not to accept the request for an extraordinary meeting.”