Burgess Hill mayor - this stinks of arrogance

I REFER to your article (August 4) that Burgess Hill now has a town mayor.

Did I miss the public consultation whilst on holiday? Apparently not, as there was no consultation – not even a mention in the election ‘manifesto’ for this May’s town council election. So why the change?

The official town council website states: “The mayor is the first citizen of Burgess Hill… to be accorded precedence in his own Town over everyone except Her Majesty the Queen and members of the Royal Family or the Lord Lieutenant of the County when representing the Crown.” Says who?

The Local Government Act of 1972 does not support this manifestation of “first citizen or accorded precedence in his own Town”. The Act does however acknowledge the role of mayor as being the same as chairman of the council, who has no greater powers than any other elected councillors. The chairman does have one or two extra responsibilities – primarily, to chair full council meetings – not committee meetings as reported in the Middy. The chairman (mayor) is not empowered to act alone in making any decisions without the express authority of the council at a full council meeting. He/she has no individual authority or power beyond the 1972 Act!

Burgess Hill Town Council was born in 1974 out of the last major local government reorganisation – under the statutes contained in the 1972 Local Government Act. The town council had the opportunity over 35 years ago to use the title of mayor rather than chairman and chose not to do so and even a public consultation on this issue in the 1990s failed to muster more than 60 responses.

So, not only is ‘first citizen’ not recognised in law – neither is ‘Leader of the town council’. Only principle authorities (ie district, borough, county, unitary councils, etc) can legally have a ‘Leader of the council’.

I have no difficulty with the town council wishing to reorganise the structure of the council, but this foisting of a “…first citizen…” over all other residents stinks of an arrogance that I thought David Cameron was working hard to lose – e.g. would prefer parliamentary candidates to drop the use of ‘double- barrelled names’.

It was also reported that the change to ‘mayor’ would be at no cost to the electorate. I beg to differ. Firstly, the chain of office will need to be changed and it is fatuous to think this will be funded by public donation. Not by me and I hope not by local businesses.

If businesses have money to ‘give away’ in today’s economic climate, I would prefer they reduce the cost of their products as a priority. Secondly, as the role of mayor grows it will demand more clerical support – particularly in organising fund raising events/initiatives. I have seen this happen in other town councils where the extra cost of clerical support in organising, running and monitoring such activities has outweighed the funds raised for local organisations lucky enough to be under the patronage of ‘the mayor.’

I am greatly concerned over the lack of transparency about the way this ‘mayoral’ decision has been taken. What has happened to this Government’s pledge to give more decision-making power to the electorate – or is that just rhetoric?

I write this letter as a past Mid Sussex district councillor (12 years), a past Burgess Hill town councillor (seven years), a parish clerk (eight years) and ‘caretaker’ town clerk at both Crowborough and Peacehaven Town Councils in the past year.

So, councillor Chris Thomas-Atkin – we salute you (and not in the Churchillian way). Enjoy your ‘new’ role and I shall be watching the expenses incurred by the mayor (and deputy) to ensure this change does not incur extra costs.

Tom O’Hara

Woodwards Close,

Burgess Hill