The next Mayor of Derry could well be the last in the city following the reorganisation of local government due to kick in in April, 2015, the Journal can reveal.
Local elections are due to take place here on Thursday, May 22 and will be the prelude to the largest shake-up of local authorities here since 1973.
The current 26 city, borough and district councils in Northern Ireland will be reduced to 11. Locally, Derry and Strabane will become one political and administrative entity in April next year.
The Local Government Bill will provide for a raft of legislative reforms including new governance arrangements for councils. Part of these arrangements state that for the first time sharing council positions of political responsibility across political parties and independents will be enshrined in law. Section 132 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 1972 deals with the appointment of the either the chair of councils or mayors being chosen from the alderman of a given local authority.
However, the Journal understands that there may be an option put on the table where there will be a decision taken to scrap the role of mayor in Derry and go for a council chair-in effect just like the current system operates in Strabane.
When asked by the Journal if the next mayor of the city could effectively be the last one following the amalgamation of both Derry and Strabane local authorities, Derry City Council a spokeswoman said: “This will be decided by the new council once elected.”
The mayoralty effectively is an honorary position bestowed upon a member of Derry City Council.
The Mayor is Chairman of the Council as well as the City’s first citizen.
Another potential outcome of this months local government election could be that the next and possibly the last mayor of Derry could actually be an unelected representative.
Current councillors standing for election this month will continue to operate until 2015 even if they loose their seats on May 22.
This is because business will operate as normal until April, 2015 with a ‘shadow council’ operating alongside until the final transition takes place. Whilst the mayor of the city is decided upon at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Derry City Council in early June each year, a mayoral candidate who lost their seat could still be appointed.
When asked to comment on this potential scenario a spokeswoman for Derry City Council told the Journal: “The incoming Mayor will be confirmed at the AGM in June from existing members of Derry City Council. Derry City Council will continue to operate as normal, delivering all of its usual services, including that of Mayor until the establishment of the new Council on April 1, 2015. Any change in the Mayoral role will be a matter for the new Council to discuss and agree.”
All of the 11 new councils will initially be established as ‘district councils’.
The new council will be able to opt to continue the charter of the existent Derry City Council, if it wishes to do so, or indeed opt for change if agreed.
Any council with a charter does have certain ceremonial rights including the choice to appoint a Mayor and Deputy Mayor. A council however may only have city status and a mayor if a city falls within it’s district boundary.