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Berwick’s Mayoral Vote: my account

Here in Berwick there’s quite a furore over the re-election of Isobel Hunter as Mayor rather than last year’s Deputy Mayor, Georgina Hill. It is unusual for the Deputy Mayor not to succeed the Mayor. I was at the town council meeting on Monday night. It was not a pleasant meeting.

Before the vote, Councillor Lang, my husband, suggested the council stick with the Mayor they have for a year as Ms Hill is currently involved in a dispute with a council employee involving serious allegations on both sides and currently under independent investigation. Hopefully in a year’s time this will be settled. Councillor Lang suggested that, should Ms Hill be elected, she would be the employee’s line manager. This, Councillor Lang said according to legal advice he had taken, could be seen as constructive dismissal of the employee and potentially lead to a costly claim against the council. Understandably, this led to a heated response from Ms Hill, including claims that several Councillors had complaints lodged against them by the same employee. Mayor Isobel Hunter said that she had received advice from NALC (The National Association of Local Councils) which suggested it would be unwise to support Ms Hill under the current circumstances.

The vote took place and Isobel Hunter was voted in as Mayor by 8 votes to Ms Hill’s 7. Councillor John Stephenson was voted in as Deputy Mayor over Councillor Ivor Dixon. I was surprised that no one nominated Ms Hill to remain as Deputy Mayor as it seemed to me Councillors may have been happy to keep the status quo for a year had they been given the opportunity. A number of vocal supporters of Ms Hill made their presence felt shouting and calling out throughout proceedings. Others spoke when invited to do so and were eloquent in their support and praise of Ms Hill. Many (12 to 16) followed Ms Hill out when she left after the vote and subsequent discussion, and before the rest of the council business took place.

Pushing aside rhetoric and posturing, the question the council faced was: Would it be wise to appoint someone who is currently in the midst of an independent employment investigation with an employee as that employee’s line manager? Unusual, uncomfortable, embarrassing and difficult as this was for all parties, it was a question that feels as if it had to be aired. In the event, the council erred on the side of caution. By a hair’s breadth.

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