TOMORROW brings the second mayoral referendum that Hartlepool has held.
The first, 11 years ago, resulted in the town being one of the first in the country to adopt the mayoral system of governance. It was actually a very close result with only 51 per cent of voters opting for the system but we have never looked back.
People may remember that the referendum followed years of political turmoil and inertia. The council went through something like seven leaders in eight years, progress in that time was virtually non existent and any decisions that were made were done so behind closed doors with no accountability to those who made them.
There is a very real danger that we will return to those times if the archaic committee system is chosen in the referendum.
The Labour councillors that will automatically assume power and control of the council if the mayoral system is abolished have already forced some of their colleagues not to support this year’s budget with the threat of expulsion from the party.
They have already refused to allow Labour councillors on to my cabinet, proving they are more interested in petty, self-serving political games than taking any responsibility and actually trying to improve the town.
The recent peer review has highlighted grave concerns about some councillors not declaring potential conflicts of interest as well as a lack of governance.
The mayoral system is not perfect and indeed, I could write another column on how and where it could be improved.
My comments would be directed to the Government though and based on more than ten years of learning and experience.
What the system is however, is a thousand times better, more democratic, cheaper, more transparent and accountable than any other system we have.
November is not a good time to have an election or referendum and the Government has been criticised for holding the Police and Crime Commissioner elections tomorrow.
That said, please do not use it as an excuse not to vote. For just over a decade and three mayoral elections, you, the public, have had a stake in the leadership and decisions of Hartlepool Borough Council.
You have had a direct say on the person responsible for spending your council tax. You have given someone a mandate represent Hartlepool at every level, to fight for Hartlepool and to take Hartlepool forward.
If you do not exercise your right to vote tomorrow you may never get a stake in your town again. You may never get the chance to change the town in the future.
You will only ever be able to vote for one of your ward councillors at a time. The councillors spending millions of pounds of your money will be elected by just a few people in Owton Manor or Rift House and have campaigned on such strategic issues as dog fouling in Mowbray Road or a fun day at Masefield Road.
There’s nothing wrong with these issues and they are exactly what a ward councillor should be tackling but my point is that no one will be campaigning to bring jobs to the town, to improve our housing, to reduce crime or even to bring the next Tall Ships race to Hartlepool.
If no one is campaigning on these issues, no one will have a mandate and responsibility to work on them and therefore they will be forgotten about and you will have no one to blame when nothing happens.
It does not matter if you like and support me or not.
It doesn’t matter if you are traditionally a Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat or UKIP supporter.
If you don’t support the Mayoral system, you will lose a considerable chunk of your democratic right in Hartlepool.
Anyone who has a genuine love for Hartlepool and really cares for the town’s future, and that is most people I have ever met, should seriously consider supporting the mayoral system.
The only chance any non-Labour voters will have of their preferred party or Independent person having decision making responsibilities in the foreseeable future is with a mayoral system.
Even regular Labour voters will never get a say in who they wish to run the town with a committee system. That will be decided by a group of currently 21 Labour councillors and done so after any local elections.
The only chance for any Labour voters to have a real stake in the town is again through the mayoral system.
I could bang on all day about why you should vote in favour of the mayoral system but the most important thing is ensuring you cast your vote in the first place.
Most of us spent last weekend remembering the people who lost their lives defending our country and protecting our right to live in a democratic society.
Please make sure you exercise that right tomorrow and have your say in the future governance arrangements for Hartlepool or you may not have that opportunity ever again.