Opposition councillor questions suitability of Stevenage’s new mayor

Stevenage Mayor Councillor Howard Burrell. Credit: Pete Stevens

Stevenage Mayor Councillor Howard Burrell. Credit: Pete Stevens - Credit: Pete Stevens

Tributes flowed in for Stevenage’s outgoing mayor as an opposition councillor raised questions about her successor’s suitability for the role.

Councillor Sherma Batson received a glowing reception as she stood down as Stevenage mayor at the annual meeting of Stevenage Borough Council on Tuesday night.

Councillor Batson was propelled into the role in March last year when the previous mayor Jack Pickersgill stepped down with immediate effect.

In her final speech she said: “I have enjoyed meeting hundreds of people of all ages and backgrounds from all walks of life.

“I couldn’t have done this without the support of everybody. I am so grateful for all of that because I just wanted to do my best.

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“I hope they think it was worthwhile. Everybody who had anything to do with my successful year I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.”

Councillor Batson attended 428 events as mayor and 77 as acting mayor in her time in both roles, including six separate events in one day.

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She also managed to raise £13,200 for good causes in the town.

The council’s leader Sharon Taylor nominated Howard Burrell, a ward councillor for Chells, to become the town’s next mayor.

She said the former professor of music has a huge interest in the arts and sports and would be a great ambassador for the town.

This nomination was seconded by Vicky Warwick.

Robin Parker is leader of the Libs Dems at the council and objected to Councillor Burrell’s appointment.

He said: “The office of mayor should not be party political but the majority group reserves the post for Labour councillors. They have reneged on an agreement made in 2006 to allow councillors from other parties to become mayor.

He added: “My other concern is about Councillor Burrell’s suitability for the role. He has a relatively short service on the council and also hi-jacked one of my residents’ meeting in 2013 and called me a liar and was taken to a Stevenage Borough Council standards committee where he accepted he was wrong and apologised.

“Then in a newspaper article in June last year he less than apologised by calling me a fibber. This is not the correct behaviour of a mayor which is why the Lib Dems are voting against his appointment.”

Councillor Taylor put forward Councillor Burrell’s nomination and he was elected with all but the three Lib Dems councillors voting against his appointment.

Speaking yesterday she criticised Councillor Parker’s behaviour at the meeting and disagreed with his claim that only Labour councillors can become mayor.

Councillor Taylor said: “The whole issue about the residents’ meeting has been dealt with, it went through the whole process and Howard apologised and Councillor Parker accepted it.

“I think it is terrible that he raised this when Howard was not in a position to respond and his whole family were there to watch him become mayor. A full council meeting was the wrong time and place to bring it up and it was totally inappropriate.

“I don’t agree with Councillor Parker’s claim that only Labour councillors can be mayor. This is common in most councils, we go through a process of selection and then decide who is going to be mayor.

“If a councillor from another party wanted to become mayor I would suggest that they approach me privately about it rather than raising it at a full council meeting.

“Finally I want to wish Howard well and we are very lucky to have him as part of the council.”

Also at the meeting Councillor Taylor was reappointed as leader of the council until 2019, with John Gardner continuing to serve as her deputy.

Conservative party leader councillor Phil Bibby will become the council’s official opposition leader, replacing Councillor Parker.

Yvan Tiako was also appointed as the youth mayor.

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