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Amendment saves Mayor from motion demanding his resignation

A motion calling for the Mayor of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority to resign or voluntarily suspend himself has been defeated.

The vote came just a day after the dismissal of the combined authority's Conservative Deputy Mayor, Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald.

In a message that appears to have been sent to Cllr Fitzgerald via Whatsapp, Mayor Nik Johnson (Labour) said he had written to the Chief Legal Officer and Monitoring Officer, Robert Parkin, to note that he was removing Cllr Fitzgerald from office and "immediately appointing" another member to be the statutory Deputy Mayor.

The Mayor replaced Cllr Fitzgerald with Cllr Lewis Herbert (Labour) on Thursday last week (19 May).

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At an extraordinary meeting held on Friday (20 May), the board voted in favour of an amendment to the initial motion which recommended that the Mayor stay in office in light of an ongoing investigation into a member conduct complaint.

The successful amendment was proposed by Cllr Herbert and recommended that the Board "fully supports" the investigation process and does not support any "interference or prejudgment by Board members during that process or see any justification to cause the Mayor himself to prejudge the outcome".

It also recommended that the Board support "on [the investigation’s] conclusion, consideration of any recommendations by the combined authority and its Audit and Governance Committee and that any such recommendations are published, according to the clear and proper review processes defined in the Constitution".

Cllr Herbert's amendments were implemented in lieu of a proposal supported by Cllr Fitzgerald and four others that said a motion of no confidence would be deemed to have passed if Mayor Johnson failed to resign or voluntarily suspend himself within seven days of the meeting.

The outcome of the extraordinary meeting was dependent on a simple majority. But for a vote to be carried, it must include the vote of the Mayor or the Deputy Mayor acting in the place of the Mayor.  

The investigation into the Mayor purportedly concerns the handling of the resignation of an advisor.

According to a BBC report, a whistleblowing inquiry found Nigel Pauley, advisor to the combined authority and the Mayor, "caused stress and strain to colleagues".

Mr Pauley told the BBC he "utterly refute[d] any improper behaviour on the part of myself or the mayor, who is a person of utmost integrity".

A number of senior staff have left the CPCA amid the conflict, including its Chief Executive, Eileen Milner, and the chair of the business board, Austen Adams.

Responding to the initial motion calling for his resignation, Mayor Dr Johnson said: "I can't comment further whilst there is an ongoing investigation as I am fully committed to that process and would not like to do anything that could jeopardise the integrity of that process".

The Mayor declined to comment on the dismissal of Cllr Fitzgerald as Deputy Mayor.

Responding to his removal, Cllr Fitzgerald said: "This was a cynical move deliberately done to remove me as the Deputy Mayor 24 hours ahead of an extraordinary meeting combined authority meeting where the Labour Mayor Dr Nik Johnson was being asked to recuse himself or step down altogether as I was one of the 5 signatories to call for the meeting.”

He added: “Questions are now being asked from all quarters whether this mayor is up to the job - I don't believe he is."

Speaking to Local Government Lawyer, Cllr Herbert said: "There is no truth in the rumour that the change of Deputy Mayor altered any votes last Friday, as the reporting of the decision will make clear when we resume the adjourned meeting in public soon after the bank holidays."

The newly instated Deputy Mayor commented that he took the position because he was committed to increasing his contribution, and that included chairing neutrally the Board motion on the code of conduct investigation. "As the Mayor had rightly decided to recuse himself until its conclusion."

Adam Carey

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