Yes campaign event covers issue of putting power in one person's hands
AN elected mayor could be a strong voice for the city – or a dictator with no-one to rein them in, a debate organised by 'yes' campaigners heard.
The government has yet to reveal exactly what powers a directly elected Bristol mayor would have, leading to uncertainty as to whether the city leader would be too powerful – or not powerful enough.
Last night's event, held at Bristol Grammar School, started with a lecture by Dr David Sweeting of Bristol University on the history of directly elected mayors and the possible powers a mayor would have. This was followed by a debate involving a panel of people who support a directly-elected Bristol mayor.
They included architect and potential candidate George Ferguson, city council Tory group leader Peter Abraham, Bristol University Students Union president Gus Baker, James Durie from Business West and Labour alderman Paul Smith.
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Questions were also taken from the audience of around 70 people.
In leaflets advertising the event organisers had said that Ray Mallon, the current mayor of Middlesbrough, would take part in the debate. But the former police officer once nicknamed RoboCop for his successful "zero tolerance" crime policy, did not attend as he was campaigning elsewhere.
One of the main issues discussed was what sort of powers a directly elected mayor would have.
Mr Ferguson said he thought there would still be a need for a council chief executive, whereas Mr Abraham argued that there would not.
One audience member voiced concern that a mayor could be like a "single dictator" and asked how this could help the city.
Mr Ferguson said he believed a "strong, confident leader would be able to devolve power back to the people".
"I don't believe the people of Bristol are going to have some mini-Hitler in the mayoral position," he said.
Mr Baker said he believed mayoral elections would prompt a higher turnout of the electorate than council polls, making the process more democratic.
Mr Durie said: "A mayor could strengthen the city – the current system does not allow the kind of time scale to get things done."
Organisers said they had invited representatives from the campaign against an elected mayor but no-one had come forward.
Leading 'no' campaigner and Lib Dem cabinet councillor Tim Kent told the Post: "We regarded this as less of a debate and more of a rally for the 'yes' campaigners.
"It was organised by them and before they invited us they were already advertising five of their own speakers. We have no gripes with them holding this event but we will only participate if there is a chance for an equal discussion."