Council leader Peter Britcliffe has denied accusations he is manipulating the constitution to cling on to power, after getting the AGM called off with one day’s notice.
The meeting - scheduled for last Tuesday night - is due in order to elect a new leader, committees and mayor, but was cancelled in the light of Mayor Paul Barton’s bad road accident last Friday.
The call was made by managing director David Welsby, on the council leader’s advice.
With the town hall under no overall control, the opposition claimed the council leader is now ‘squatting’ at Scaitcliffe House.
But he has hit back; claiming the decision had nothing to do with the leadership vote and accusing his rivals of making political capital out of the Mayor’s accident.
The Labour group had formally offered to ‘pair off’ one of its councillors - new MP Graham Jones - with the Mayor, so as not to gain numerically from his unforeseeable absence.
There are currently 17 Conservatives, 14 Labour members and four Independents at the town hall. Labour bosses claim they have the support of three Independents in a leadership battle, while the fourth Councillor Malcolm Pritchard is backing the council leader.
Councillor Pritchard is widely viewed as the 18th vote, the ‘kingmaker’ guaranteeing the council leader’s continued tenure in the job. He is counting on Tory support for his bid to become the Mayor.
But the largest party could have been left short handed as Councillor Kathleen Pratt was also believed to be unable to attend. And the Mayor’s deputy, who could have had a decisive casting vote in his absence, is Labour’s Pam Barton.
Labour chief Miles Parkinson said: "It has been a published diary date for about a year. People have taken time off work and Graham Jones is an MP and has commitments down in Westminster. That’s why we were willing to do the gracious thing and stand down one of our members."
The delay casts a doubt over other council business as the AGM will now take place after a scheduled Cabinet meeting on May 24, as well as other committees.
But the council leader responded: "The Mayor has been involved in an unfortunate accident and none of us could legislate for this. We want him to have the opportunity to attend his final meeting as Mayor because at that meeting he will hand over the flag to the new Mayor."
He added: "We remain in control of the council and I cannot imagine that the Labour party will be wanting to play silly beggars at the AGM. We have 18, which is the majority, and they have 14, which is not. I’m disappointed at at time like this that they’re trying to create some sort of row. We have changed things about for the sake of the Mayoralty before and it’s quite an important time in the Mayor’s year."
Former Labour leader Councillor Jones was intending to announce his resignation as Peel ward councillor at Tuesday’s AGM. The new MP accused the council leader of making "a sham" of democracy.
He said: "This meeting will not be the Mayor’s big day. This is a nonsense. There will be no dignitaries or guests there and the main celebration will be on June 26. All Paul would have done is open up the meeting for the first two items."
He added: "I arranged with the Commons whips that I wouldn’t go down to London because of the meeting. It will now cost the taxpayer, because if I have to come back up and down it will cost £250 for the second class train fare."
Clarification is also being sought as the borough constitution suggests that the new Mayor should be elected before a vote on the council leader is taken. The Labour group is unhappy that the agenda suggests that these votes will be reversed in order.
The meeting has been rearranged from Wednesday May 26 at 1.30pm.