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Letters to the Lincolnshire Echo...

By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: June 21, 2012

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Dear Editor

I am very disappointed at the way Councillor Sara Cliff has been portrayed in your front page/page 9 feature in last week's Echo.

When Sara was posted to Soham by the Methodist church she was keen to carry on with her councillor duties and representing the people of Lincoln East. She has continued to do all she can to maintain her support for constituents in Lincoln even though this has been challenging at times.

I know her as a very hard working councillor who endured a serious illness for six months in 2010 which impacted on her attendance at meetings. She has actually attended many more meetings than the 19 suggested in the media in addition to her constituency work and onerous preparatory work which all councillors are expected to do.

As a reverend her responsibilities involve constant support for people in need and many other parish duties. She is no less committed than many other councillors who have day jobs and find it equally difficult to attend all council meetings.

There is a wider issue here that if working people are going to be hounded out of elected office on the basis of misrepresentation, it is a sad day for the health of democracy in this country. I respect Sara's decision to resign in the interests of all concerned – the church, the council and not least her own wellbeing.

I want to take this opportunity to thank her for all the work she has done, not least with the Adoption Panel, for the people of Lincoln East and for the people of Lincolnshire.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Martin Hill

Leader

Lincolnshire County Council

Editor's reply:

The issue of Ms Cliff's attendance was raised by residents of her own council ward. They say they had hardly seen her since she moved away for work reasons.

Martin Hill says Ms Cliff attended "many more meetings than the 19 suggested". Yet every statistic reported in last week's story was provided by the county council itself. All the figures come from the authority's own attendance records. This cannot be disputed.

Mr Hill says he is "very disappointed" with the article. Frankly, it is alarming that Mr Hill would be anything other than relieved that his council can still rely on the local media to hold it to account.

Transparency is a cornerstone of democracy. Genuine, impartial and proper investigation by the press should be embraced.

Ms Cliff was not randomly singled out by the Echo. The county council's own clerks had flagged up her poor attendance. No other councillor had caught their eye in this way during the three years of this council.

Ms Cliff suffered serious illness for six months in 2010, but Echo's story related to a three year period. Mr Hill himself told our reporter that her attendance in 2011 was "not good at all". He admitted he had already spoken to Ms Cliff about her record. Today's statement seems to represent a regrettable change in his stance.

It is concerning that the leader of Lincolnshire's biggest local authority feels it's appropriate to suggest this story represents "a sad day for the health of democracy in this country".

One of the basic missions of the media is to serve as a government watchdog. That is why the freedom of the press is such an integral part of our democracy.

We are proud to represent our readers. We strive to give a voice to our community.

Nobody disputes Ms Cliff's need to relocate for work reasons. But if her electorate felt she could not give due commitment to the job by living 120 miles away, they will no doubt feel relieved by her resignation.

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