York has a new Lord Mayor.
Eight hundred and four years since Hugh de Selby founded the role, Cllr Chris Cullwick was officially appointed as the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of York today (Thursday).
He succeeds Janet Looker, who remained in the role for two years owing to the Covid crisis – the first mayor to do so since 1933.
Cllr Cullwick took up the chains of office at City of York Council’s first ever Covid-secure Annual Council, which proved to be controversial
It took place at the Assembly Rooms rather than the traditional Guildhall, which is being renovated.
Not every councillor was allowed to attend and aldermen had to stay away “due to public health guidance around safe distancing”.
Originally the press and public were also banned from attending.
But at the last minute, one space was allocated for public attendance, and one space for press attendance. “These will be allocated on a ‘first come first served’ basis,” said a press release – issued a few minutes before the meeting began.
Earlier, some had suggested that the press and public ban was unlawful.
In a letter to the council, York resident and local government expert Gwen Swinburn said: “You are not lawfully allowed to hold a public meeting excluding the public, or selecting or forcing councillors to pick who doesn’t come (however you dress it up).”
Alderman and former Lord Mayor Brian Watson said: “The worrying fact here is how the civic roles and procedures are being eroded over the years, whether the officers responsible like it or not the brakes should be put on these activities.
“Open public meetings should have been held about the use of the Guildhall and must be held about the future of the Mansion House.”
The council said limiting numbers was necessary for health reasons, but the meeting could be followed on a live webcast.
In the meeting itself, another controversial note came about after the Labour Group opposed the allocation of members to various committees. A meeting that should have lasted not much more than an hour went on for nearly three.
The new civic party
New Lord Mayor Chris Cullwick is the Liberal Democrat ward councillor for Huntington and New Earswick.
He has lived in York since 1984 and is instrumental in establishing initiatives including foodbanks, Street Angels, the York Schools and Youth Trust (Yo-yo), Family Matters, Spurriergate Meeting Place and the One Voice Trust (a network of churches).
Ordained in the Church of England for more than 40 years, he has served most of this time in York, including ten years as a chaplain to the city whilst based at York St John University Chaplaincy.
His wife, Joy, a psychotherapist and retired University lecturer, has become Lady Mayoress. Cllr Cullwick has chosen Cllr Ashley Mason to serve as Sheriff, with his wife Danielle becoming Sherriff’s Lady.
He said: “It is a great honour to continue one of the most prestigious civic traditions in the Country by becoming the Lord Mayor of York, with my wife Joy as Lady Mayoress.
“This wonderful opportunity brings with it a great responsibility. I will do my absolute upmost to uphold the traditions of the Mayorality and represent our beautiful city.
“I am delighted that my colleague Cllr Ashley Mason has accepted the role of Sheriff with his wife Danielle Mason becoming Sheriff’s Lady. We will all do our best to use the Office of Lord Mayor to promote and support our amazing and diverse communities.
“As we look to build back better, I believe that we must also focus on rebuilding a fairer and more equal city. By working with our terrific charities we will make sure to support York’s communities who have displayed incredible resilience throughout the challenges of the past year.”