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Labour Accused Of 'vote-rigging' Plot

LABOUR councillors have been accused of trying to rig the vote on whether Watford should have an elected mayor.

LABOUR councillors have been accused of trying to rig the vote on whether Watford should have an elected mayor.

The accusation follows publication of the September edition of Watford Council's Watford Today newspaper which carries a front page story on the mayoral election debate.

Liberal Democrat leader Iain Sharpe, who is opposed to an elected mayor, says the report aims to mislead readers into supporting a mayoral referendum.

That, he says, is propaganda, a misuse of public funds and in breach of the council's duty to remain neutral.

Councillor Sharpe feels the article, headlined 'Mayor is ahead of the field', is a lengthy argument in favour of an elected mayor, together with an unsubstantiated assertion that there is growing support for the option of a mayor.

Councillor Sharpe added: 'It is a misuse of funds to use public money for a propaganda campaign in favour of the Labour council leader's preferred option of an elected mayor.

'To be using the council newspaper to promote one particular option is to try to rig the results of the consultation.'

Watford Council is expected to remain impartial in a referendum and is expected to carry out public consultation on four possible options for changing the way the council is run.

Leader of the council Vince Muspratt said: 'The article printed was a result of public consultation and does not urge people to support the idea of an elected mayor, it states the outcome of the survey.

'The article was produced in an impartial way and it informs, not influences, the public .'

Chief executive Alan Clarke said Councillor Sharpe had lodged no formal complaint.

Mr Clarke added: 'We operate under tight guidelines to ensure all council publications provide information and are not propaganda.

'Articles in Watford Today are checked by our legal department to ensure they comply with regulations and this was the case with the front page article in the September issue.

'The purpose of the article was to inform all residents about what local people have said to us so far about options for change in the way the council is run, and also about some new options produced by the Government.'

Watford Council is planning to hold a referendum on whether the town should have an elected mayor early next year.

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