Vote on mayor a step closer

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HARTLEPOOL is a step closer to holding a mayoral referendum after councillors last night backed proposals to stage one in November.

Mayor Stuart Drummond, who became the town’s first elected mayor in May 2002, welcomed the chance for people to have their say.

But the town’s leader raised concerns about how much say residents will have on the alternative options put forward.

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

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The full council meeting heard if the referendum is held, there would only be two options to choose from: keep the status quo or one other alternative.

Mayor Drummond, who was elected for the third successive time in 2009, said he “wholeheartedly” supported holding a referendum.

But added: “If we are going to give people the choice, they should have all the choices at the referendum.

“If that is not possible then I would strongly urge that we consult with the public to what the alternative would be.

“I would loathe to be part of a council that would stitch up a referendum without giving the people of Hartlepool the full choice.”

Labour councillor Marjorie James took exception, and asked Mayor Drummond to withdraw the statement. He did not.

The Labour Group resolution called for a referendum, subject to recommendations from Hartlepool Borough Council’s constitution and general purposes committees.

Group members said the public would be consulted as the alternative options will also be discussed at upcoming consultative forums, which cover all areas of town.

The council is not duty-bound to consult, and the wording of the referendum is set nationally.

But Mayor Drummond, backed by independent councillor Paul Thompson, called for a wider consultation to ensure people are fully aware of the alternatives.

Coun James, vice-chair of the constitution committee, said there will be ample opportunity for people to have their say, adding: “It is recommended that we consult using the mechanisms we have in place, the consultative forums.”

Before reading the resolution, Labour group leader Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “It is only right and proper that the people of Hartlepool are given the opportunity to indicate how they wish to be governed.”

The resolution read: “This council resolves to hold a referendum 15th November 2012 to be combined with the ordinary election in respect of the Police Commissioner subject to recommendations coming forward from constitution/general purposes committees back to council on proposed constitutional changes.”

Coun Thompson called for the alternative forms of governance to be put out to consultation so the public decides what the alternative option would be.

But his amendment – supported by several members – was rejected and the original resolution agreed.

Speaking afterwards, Coun Thompson said: “I believe the people of Hartlepool should be given a free choice, not an abridged version of what the council thinks they want.

“It is almost as if we are saying people do not understand the choices.

“I fear we are going to stifle democracy.”

Labour councillor Jonathan Brash said people had a right to have a say about what options were on the table.

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

Independent councillor Keith Fisher called on the referendum to be as clear as possible so people know exactly what they are voting for.

Meanwhile, Conservative councillor George Morris said: “I think it is time to move on to another form of governance but we have to make sure we get it right.”