A COUNCILLOR is calling for Darlington’s council leader and ceremonial mayor to be replaced with an elected figurehead.

An elected mayor would boost accountability and help to restore public confidence in the town’s leadership, according to Cllr Kevin Nicholson.

The independent politician believes that the leadership model currently used in Darlington is outdated and leads to decisions “being made behind closed doors by a small number of councillors and a leader who was not elected by the public.”

Currently, Darlington's council operates a leader and cabinet model of political leadership and is led by Labour councillor Bill Dixon.

The town also has a ceremonial mayor - currently Cllr Veronica Copeland - who formally represents the borough in a civic capacity and wields no political power.

Cllr Nicholson said the two roles were “perhaps the most influential and powerful positions in our town” as he highlighted the fact that neither the leader nor the mayor were publicly elected.

He said: “How can this be acceptable in this day and age, that ordinary voters don’t get the chance to vote for the people in these roles?

“As a councillor I find the ceremony and governance arrangements of the council rather bizarre and at times rather distant from the expectations of the modern world. We even have to address the Mayor ‘Mr. Mayor’ irrespective of the mayor’s gender.”

In 2007, Darlington residents voted against having an elected mayor in a referendum but Cllr Nicholson believes that the political climate has since changed and is convinced that such a role would be more beneficial to the public.

He said the move to an elected mayor could save the town money and reconnect voters with those who make decisions on their behalf.

Cllr Nicholson added: “I’m a huge fan of pomp and ceremony and had I had the chance to vote in the referendum, I would have voted against it.

“But that was back in 2007, and things change, cultures changes, people’s expectations change and what’s classed as the ‘norm’ moves on.

“This is about how connected people feel towards the decisions that are made on their behalf, whether those decisions are viewed positively or negatively.

“The first job of any leader is to create a connected community and in my opinion you can only do that through direct accountability to local people, who fundamentally feel, and are part of the process. The process which should start at the ballot box.”