Mayor ousts businessman who sparked independent revolution

THE Mansfield businessman who sparked the town's independent revolution has been sensationally sacked from his cabinet position — by the mayor he helped to elect.

For pioneering Coun Stewart Rickersey — who forced the historic mayoral referendum in May 2002, which ultimately led to Tony Egginton sweeping to power at Mansfield District Council — was this week ousted from his role as portfolio holder for corporate issues in a cabinet reshuffle.

News of his removal comes amid growing rumours of a cabinet rift after he recently opposed colleagues by campaigning for a zero per cent rise in Council Tax — against their recommended 2.8 per cent hike.

Deputy mayor Coun Phil Smith will take his place with his responsibilities for environment passed on to independent councillor Eddie Smith.

Meanwhile, ex-Labour member Coun Alan Weaver — who himself hit the headlines when he defected to the Independent Forum before last May's election — has stood down from his role as housing portfolio holder due to health reasons.

Yesterday Mr Egginton dismissed speculation of any rift and said it was his job to make sure he had the right people in place to move the town forward.

He told Chad: "Both Alan and Stewart have done a tremendous job and I'm certainly not saying that they have not, but things move on. I'm repositioning the team so that I get the best out of the members and staff alike. I think I have now put people in the position that gives us the opportunity to deliver.

"From the reshuffle is a cabinet of people who can give their full-time commitment as it really is a full-time job as I'm expecting so much from these people to deliver. I have got to put the best team in to deliver.

"I am the leader and it's all about making decisions and some are tough, but I have put a lot of thought behind it and I think this is the best thing. My sole responsibility is not to the independent group, but to the people of Mansfield."

In 2002 Coun Rickersey led volunteers to collect thousands of signatures needed on a petition calling for a referendum on the council's leadership — which resulted in nearly 9,000 people voting for a US-style elected major.

Coun Rickersey then backed Mr Egginton in the mayoral election in October 2002 when he became the first Independent leader in the council's history.

And he helped mastermind the campaign that saw 25 Independents storm to power in May last year to end 30 years of Labour rule in the town — when he stood as a candidate himself and acted as agent for several others.

He declined to comment this week, but has indicated that he will speak about his position in the next few days.

Meanwhile, the mayor has also revealed that he will lead a housing task force that will consult tenants on the future of the council's housing stock.

Coun Weaver (66) is lined up to work alongside Mr Egginton in setting up the group — which is expected to have cross-party representation — despite officially standing down from his role at the council's annual meeting in May. He will continue as a councillor for the Pleasley Hill ward.

But the reshuffle has shocked councillors across the political divide and Labour leader Coun Les Marshall said: "I'm surprised that Coun Rickersey has been taken off the cabinet as he was the person that was the catalyst for the mayor and independents to be elected. Quite clearly there are divisions in the cabinet for that to happen."

He also questioned whether Mr Egginton could take on board the housing role on top of his other commitments.