A city councillor has hit back at claims he is neglecting his constituents by failing to turn up at meetings after a community council chief labelled it a “serious democratic shortage”.
Independent Cllr Lewis Ritchie has not attended a meeting of Leith Central Community Council since March 2017 and allegedly said he would not show up for five years after being elected onto the City of Edinburgh Council – an allegation he denies.
The community council said it needs “all hands on deck” to scrutinise proposals to take Edinburgh trams down Leith Walk to Newhaven. But the chairman of the authority, Charlotte Encombe, has questioned Cllr Ritchie’s commitment to representing his Leith Walk ward.
She said: “We have seen some of the most complex issues going on with the trams and we have only got three out of our four councillors representing us.
“There has been a serious democratic shortage. If the councillors are not there to listen to us, how can we be heard by the rest of the city council?”
She added: “The last time he turned up was in March 2017. I think considering there are such big things going on, it’s not really good enough.
“We really need all hands on deck. Maybe nobody will agree with each other, but we need communication with where things are going.”
Cllr Ritchie was given a leave of absence by the SNP in October 2017 and resigned from the party following allegations of sexual harassment in February – claims he denies. He vowed to continue representing the Leith Walk ward as an independent councillor.
Ms Encombe added: “There has been very little communication about what the situation was.
“It’s not a democratic way of working. I think the difficultly arises when we have an independent councillor and we don’t really know what he’s thinking.”
Cllr Ritchie has branded the claims “an attempt to kick me when I’m down” and insisted being an independent councillor has given him more focus on local issues. He intends to be present at future meetings.
He said: “I absolutely loved being a member of the SNP.
“I put my heart and soul into the party – I had a lot of friends in the party, yet the experience of being an independent councillor is quite liberating.”
He added: “If people think I’m now going to slip on into the darkness, they are sadly mistaken.
“I will be as active, if not more active, than I have been. I’m not out to pick a fight or cause trouble to the administration or destroy anyone.”
Ms Encombe has written to Cllr Ritchie asking him to explain his period of absence, but said she is yet to receive a reply.
In her letter, Ms Encombe said: “Firstly, the last time you attended our meeting was about a year ago; 20 March 2017. An apology was received for the June and November meetings in 2017, but since then we have received no further communication from you. Understandably, we are not very happy about this, especially as we have no idea on what basis you are currently representing the ward.
“Furthermore, we understand that shortly after your election as SNP councillor in May 2017 you said that you would not be attending a community council meeting for another five years.”
She added: “As I’m sure you will understand, it is very upsetting for LCCC members, a group of dedicated and hard-working volunteers, to hear this from someone who is legally their representative at the City of Edinburgh Council, in receipt of remuneration. Furthermore, the question now arises, not having been to any of our meetings for over a year, how well you are acquainted with the issues that currently affect our ward.
“As our meetings are open to the public, you are welcome to attend them, but if you do, you will be asked to apologise for that remark and must expect a lively debate regarding your current activities and plans to represent the ward.”
Last week, Cllr Ritchie launched a campaign against the proposed tram extension. He warned that 18 months of disruption would impact local businesses.