KEIGHLEY’S mayor has revealed he came close to surrendering his chains of office in the past six months due to “sheer mental and physical stress”.

Councillor Graham Mitchell has been carrying out his role without a full team of council officers since the town clerk retired in June.

And the same period has coincided with an independent audit into the council’s finances, which reached a series of damning conclusions.

“I have been required to undertake far more work than any mayor ought to be doing, and my health has suffered,” he said.

A new clerk has been appointed to fill the vacancy and is due to start work on December 10.

Keighley Town Council will formally respond to the auditors’ report on its governance and handling of public money at an extraordinary meeting in the town hall at 6.30pm on Tuesday.

Councillors who were members of the management and staffing committee between June 2012 and March 2013 have faced a call to resign in the wake of the report.

But Cllr Mitchell said: “I would not consider resigning because of an electronic petition containing the names of people from Bradford, Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, Steyning in West Sussex, Turje in Hungary, Lexington in Massachusetts USA and Fern Tree Gully in Victoria Australia, most of whom have little or no knowledge of what they are signing up to.

“Unlike MPs, all councillors are elected by residents in their own wards, and it is to them we owe our position and our responsibility. So when there is a valid hard copy petition in Oakworth Co-op, signed by Oakworth residents, calling on me to resign my seat in Oakworth ward, then that will be the time to stand down.”

As reported in last week’s Keighley News, fellow councillor Ron Beale said the findings of the auditors had “tarnished” the mayor’s chains of office. He argued the office of town mayor should be abolished.

But Cllr Mitchell said: “Councillor Beale’s opposition to the very existence of a town mayor is well known and well documented. But Councillor Beale does not attend civic functions and does not understand how much the people of Keighley love seeing the Keighley civic regalia in use, and how they take enormous delight and pride in the fact ‘these are ours and we fought to get them back from Bradford’.”

Two other town councillors have also spoken up this week in defence of the mayor and the town council.

Cllr Kathrine Roberts said: “People all over Keighley, especially in my ward, appreciate the hard work our mayor is doing. I’ve also heard from other wards who also think the mayor is doing a great job under very difficult circumstances.”

Cllr Samuel Fletcher said: “Cllr Mitchell is absolutely right not to stand down as mayor.

“I know the vast majority of Keighley town councillors are good, honest people who serve their electorate in their wards to the best of their ability.”

l See letters on pages 12 and 13 for further comment