Mayor faced legal threat

Democracy debate: Wyre mayor Coun Ron Shewan and (below)  the leader of the Conservatives on the council, Peter Gibson
Democracy debate: Wyre mayor Coun Ron Shewan and (below) the leader of the Conservatives on the council, Peter Gibson

Town hall bosses threatened to take legal action against the Mayor of Wyre amid claims he “unlawfully” stifled a public debate.

Wyre Council took independent legal advice following heated scenes at a recent meeting that saw ruling Tories members walk out when Mayor Ron Shewan attempted to silence some councillors.

Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Borough Council

Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Borough Council

Papers seen by The Gazette show a Wyre Council officer contacted law firm Weightmans asking if the authority has the power to remove Coun Shewan from office, if he were to veto a public debate at a future meeting.

The firm was also asked to draft a speech to be read out by the chief executive if such a situation were to arise.

The draft, also seen by The Gazette, says: “If the mayor seeks in a dictatorial fashion to prevent the will of council being expressed on this subject then he will in my view be acting unlawfully, and this view has been endorsed by external legal advice which we have received.”

It goes on to threaten to “seek the approval of cabinet to fund legal action” in a bid to have the decision quashed.

The Mayor, a Labour councillor, said there was “no way” he would stifle debate, and denied that he had acted unlawfully at a meeting in November by refusing to hear a notice of motion that he declared was unconstitutional.

“There’s no way I would abuse this privilege (of being Mayor),” he added. “I’m not a megalomaniac.

“Why would I try to stifle debate? The whole point of the council is to have a debating chamber.

“In my opinion I have acted absolutely responsibly.”

Conservative council leader Peter Gibson said: “Our view was that the Mayor had acted unlawfully .

“I don’t want to take it any further, but we can’t have any member acting unlawfully.

“Residents want us to concentrate on improving services, not have endless debate about the constitution.”

The advice from Weightmans also shows members of the Conservative party had considered putting forward plans to curb the powers of the mayor.

The firm was asked for its view on whether efforts to block a vote on such changes would be lawful.

Coun Gibson said changing the constitution – to remove a paragraph that states the Mayor’s rulings are not to be challenged – was an option, adding: “We do not think this is the right time.”

November’s meeting had to be cut short after Conservative members walked out over Coun Shewan’s use of his powers to dismiss a notice of motion he claimed challenged his position as Mayor.

The stand-off was sparked by disagreements over his move to reserve time allocated for councillors’ questions for those who do not sit on the council’s executive committee.

Coun Shewan argued his role was to encourage accountability, and that cabinet members were able to prevent their decisions being scrutinised by using the time to question one another.

He said: “Stifling debate was entirely what I was trying to avoid.

“I pointed out the system was open to abuse.”

A notice of motion to be discussed at Thursday’s full council, which Coun Shewan described as a “compromise that is acceptable to all”, appears to have resolved the issue.