A DEFIANT mayor has hit back at allegations after five members of a council executive resigned.

Middlesbrough Council was thrown into disarray yesterday after five of the authority's seven executive members resigned after calling for Mayor Andy Preston to step down.

A meeting of the executive had been due to take place but was adjourned due to it not having enough members present. 

Deputy leader Antony High published an explosive letter on social media accused Mr Preston of “consistent poor conduct and behaviour”.

The letter was also signed by councillors Dorothy Davison, Dennis McCabe, Chris Hobson and Ashley Waters, who have all resigned as executive members. 

A request has been made for a vote of no confidence in Mr Preston.

A number of allegations relating to behaviour and claims of financial mismanagement were made in the letter to Mr Preston, which has been published online. 

Last night, the mayor refuted the allegations and said an attempt to make him resign was undemocratic. 

He said: “Let me be absolutely clear – these allegations are completely untrue. I’m not sure how anyone can make such accusations without a scrap of evidence. 

“Ultimately, if anyone believes I’ve done wrong, they should go through the appropriate channels and put in an official complaint to the council, rather than making defamatory public remarks.

“Whatever I do, it’s always about putting Middlesbrough and its people first. 

”I’ve done that for my two years as mayor and I was doing that for many years before I was elected, setting up and running two local charities that raised about £6 million, nearly all of it for struggling Teesside people.

“I was elected with 59 per cent of the vote just two years ago to halt 40 years of decline in the town. Anyone can see that, despite the real challenge of Covid, I’m making massive progress in transforming the town for the better.

“If the public aren’t happy with the job I’m doing, they’ll have opportunity to vote me out at the election in two years’ time. 

“Any attempt to force me to go before then is both undemocratic and insulting to those who voted for me or anyone else at the election.

“Yet again, this is about those who don’t like the fact that I’m a very different mayor than any other. I do things differently, I challenge the status quo and I clearly upset a few people along the way who’d like things to stay just how they are.

“Clearly some people want me to resign. But I’ve got bad news for them. I won’t."

In a statement posted on social media, Cllr High said: “After a direct request for Andy Preston to resign by the all independent executives was refused, we had no other option but to step away from his administration.”

He added: “For the last 24 months I have worked tirelessly to address and turn around a number of critical areas of delivery for our Middlesbrough.

“However, I can no longer be associated with Andy Preston professionally or politically."

“I will proudly continue on as an elected councillor for the Ayresome ward and as the group leader for the MIG Group.”

Confirming his resignation on Facebook, Cllr Waters said: “I have also resigned as Middlesbrough’s executive for regeneration today.

“It is with great sadness that it has came to this. However I value integrity and honestly over all else.

“I will continue with pride in my role as councillor for North Ormesby.”

Cllr Mieka Smiles, the other remaining member of the executive, said: "It has been the role of my life to represent not only Nunthorpe residents but be on the executive looking after Middlesbrough residents in my role as executive councillor looking after communities and education.

“It’s a job that I’ve put my absolute all into and so many important projects are underway that I hope will change life for Middlesbrough residents for the better that I would hate to walk away from.These allegations against the mayor, however, are serious and I would like to give the mayor the opportunity to promptly and publicly respond to each allegation.

"In the absence of a rapid and credible explanation I would no longer in good conscience be able to serve.”

Labour's Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough, called for Mr Preston to resign, describing his position as "untenable" while Conservative Simon Clarke, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, called for a prompt response to each allegation. 

Mr McDonald said: “The mass resignation of independent councillors from Andy Preston’s executive sends a very clear message about the ‘leadership’ of Middlesbrough’s Mayor and how dysfunctional and untenable that has become.   
“Let’s be clear – this is something I, and Labour councillors in Middlesbrough, have been expressing concerns about for a long time.
“Andy Preston’s fundamental failure to comprehend and adhere to the Local Government environment to which he has been elected is at the root of these issues with wholly adverse consequences for the standing and reputation of our town.  
“Now, the Mayor must put own personal interests to one side and put our town first. It is time, and it has been for some time, for him to resign.”  

Mr Clarke said: "These are incredibly serious allegations. The Mayor needs to immediately, systematically and publicly disprove them or his position will be untenable.”