Friday, 27 April 2012

Growing up as a council - Frodsham

Last Monday night we took the momentous decision at Frodsham Town Council to split the work load of our Mayor.  We see the Mayor as having two distinct roles - acting as Frodsham's first citizen and civic representative and Chairman of the Town Council.  Both roles are important - and can in part conflict.  

The Mayor must be absolutely impartial and be seen as someone we can all support in their important work.  The Chairman is their to provide leadership for the council and to guide its business.  Especially now that local councils like ours are gaining greater power and influence such a role is very important.  No matter how impartial one tries to be there will always be times when a Chairman has to take a lead on something that can be controversial.   It is also becoming more of a full time role.

We've also taken the decision - as happens at many other councils - for a convention to be drawn up to help us select our Mayor from year to year without controversy.  We've decided that the Mayorship should be offered to the member who has served the council the longest since last being mayor of from when they were first elected.  In reality the convention will help us pick our Deputy Mayor - as the convention also provides that the deputy mayor should be the mayor in the following year.  So assuming this convention is adopted our present deputy mayor Cllr Rita Shearn is likely to become our Mayor in May 2012 and Cllr Frank Pennington who was last mayor in 1992 when Frodsham became a Town (and was thus our very first mayor) will, all things being equal, become our Mayor in May 2013.  I will fall to the bottom of the list - having been mayor in 2011-12.  Now not everyone is comfortable in being a mayor - so just because the mayorship is offered to you doesn't mean you have to accept it!

So back to the Chairmanship.  You would have thought that making a split between the Chairman and the Mayor would have been easy and straight forward.  Unfortunately the Local Government Act 1972 in its rigid and simple rules makes this more difficult than any of us would like.

As a matter of law the Chairman - who must be elected every year by the Council - is entitled, as the Act says, to 'the style' of 'town mayor.'  This means that as the present mayor my title is actually 'town mayor' and not the courtesy title 'Mayor of Frodsham.'  The Act also provides that a council may have a deputy Chairman - who by extension for us is our deputy town mayor.  He or she is entitled to perform any of the Chairman's or town mayor's functions as a deputy.

The decision we have taken is in essence to allow the council with the chairman to determine at the beginning of a municipal year whether he or she should perform both roles or whether the representative role should be delegated to the deputy town mayor for that year.   If that delegation occurs we would allow the deputy town mayor to call him or herself 'Mayor of Frodsham.'

In reality this means that in some years we may operate as we have done for the last 20 years with the Chairman and the Mayor being the same person, and in others splitting the role.  Crucially this means we could have one person continuing as Chairman from year to year - providing consistent leadership - whilst letting others take a turn a being our first citizen.

I've worked really hard this year.  We've transformed the council.  I've already told my colleagues that I'm not seeking to perform any leading role with the council next year.

For those of you who like seeing information in tables we can operate in either of these ways:

The traditional model:

(1) Chairman and town mayor - known as 'Mayor of Frodsham'; supported by,
(2) Deputy Chairman and deputy town mayor - known as Deputy Mayor'

The split model:

(1) Chairman and town mayor - known as 'Chairman'; supported by,
(2) Deputy Chairman and deputy town mayor - known as 'Mayor of Frodsham' when conducting civic functions;
(3) Deputy Mayor of Frodsham