The leader of Cheshire East Council has vowed to stay on for the next four years – despite a leaked email suggesting he might step down after a year.
Coun Wesley Fitzgerald, 73, said he would carry on leading the council to ‘finish the job’ even after recent challenges to his position. Two prominent Tory councillors ran against him for the leadership of the Cheshire East Conservatives while an independent rival stood against him for the council’s top political seat.
The Wilmslow West and Chorley councillor was branded a ‘Mickey Mouse Mussolini’ by Independents who plotted against him.
A leaked email from the council’s deputy leader, Coun Roland Domleo, was sent to garner support for their joint campaign as deputy and leader – and suggested Coun Fitzgerald could step down next year.
The email, sent to Congleton Tory councillors, read: ‘I do not envisage making this request to you next year’.
But Coun Fitzgerald, who has led Cheshire East since it was set up, yesterday brushed off the suggestion he might step down after another year in the job.
He said: "Absolutely not. I’m elected for four years now under the strong leader model and as long as I’m fit and capable of doing the job and my group support me, I will go on.
"It’s a job which I don’t think is finished. It will take another year or two at least to get it as I and many others would like to see it. I would like to finish the job."
Coun Domleo told the Express he does not make any secret of his desire to be leader.
The Congleton councillor said the reference to ‘I do not envisage making the request next year’ referred to his own position as deputy.
He added: "If there isn’t a vacancy for leader next year I might step aside as deputy. But if I’m asked to stay in the cabinet then I will do, ready to fill the vacancy for leader when it becomes available.
"Everybody knows I would like to take over from Wesley when he steps down. I was leader of Congleton borough council and it’s a natural progression."
Coun Fitzgerald was elected leader last week at CEC’s first full meeting since the local elections, by 45 votes to 20.
Independent David Brickhill became the first person to stand against Coun Fitzgerald since CEC’s formation in 2009.
Brendan Murphy, Tytherington Independent, told the meeting: "I am struck by this phrase ‘strong leader’. To those who lived through World War Two and the Cold War that has a chilling resonance.
"We are not looking for another Mickey Mouse Mussolini running around, we need someone who is going to be truly democratic."
Fellow Independent Arthur Moran said there was too much power in too few hands.
But as he accepted re-election as leader, Coun Fitzgerald hit back at his critics saying: "When you are building a house the last thing you need is people coming round saying that the design is wrong.
"We are still building this house but I will not be able to without my own people around to help me."
The make-up of the CEC cabinet remained largely unchanged.
Bolllington councillor Peter Hayes replaced surprise election casualty Andrew Knowles as member for health and wellbeing.