A HEATED ROW has broken out after calls for the resignation of two councillors suffering with severe health issues. 

Councillors Mary Mears and Robert Mcintosh, who represent Rottingdean Coastal, have been absent from meetings in recent months due to illness.

Bridget Fishleigh, an independent councillor for the same ward, called for them to stand down. 

This sparked an argument with the Tories, which quickly degenerated into foul language from Cllr Fishleigh.

The Argus: Cllr Robert Mcintosh and Cllr Mary Mears have both suffered from ill health in recent monthsCllr Robert Mcintosh and Cllr Mary Mears have both suffered from ill health in recent months

The row started after Cllr Fishleigh told The Argus: “We are elected for four years to represent residents, if someone’s personal circumstances change and they can’t do their council duties, then I believe they should step down.

“I am sorry to hear about the ongoing ill health of Cllr Mears and Cllr McIntosh and wish them the best for a full and speedy recovery.

“However, being a councillor isn’t like a normal job - there are no fixed hours and we have an allowance, not a salary.”

Long-serving Cllr Mears, who is a Conservative, had been due to be the next mayor of Brighton and Hove but fell ill in March and has been absent from council meetings ever since.

Cllr McIntosh, who stood for Labour at a by-election in May, received a diagnosis of bowel cancer during the campaign and is understood to be recovering from surgery.

Cllr Fishleigh said that if the pair stood down now then they could run again at the local elections in May when they have recovered.

She said: “It’s not about us as councillors - it’s about our ability to do our duties and provide the residents of Brighton and Hove with a voice.

"We can’t do that if we are on long-term leave.”

Cllr Fishleigh, the city's only elected independent representative on the council, said that she has seen an increased workload as a result of their absence.

She told The Argus she has not received any help from the other political parties in dealing with this.

Cllr Fishleigh said: “They are not picking up anything at all and just assume that I will pick up all the work, which I am doing, but we have three councillors for this area for a reason.

“It is not my job to cover for people who absolutely loathe me for no reason apart from that I am not in their political party, and I am a better councillor than them.”

Conservatives: 'Fishleigh's commitment to council considered poor'

The Argus approached Labour and The Conservatives with Cllr Fishleigh's comments.

Brighton Conservative leader Steve Bell slammed the independent councillor.

He said: “Cllr Fishleigh would do well to look at her own level of commitment to the council, which is currently considered to be poor.

“Residents are concerned that Cllr Fishleigh is the only councillor who refuses to take up her seat on a decision-making committee.

“She has thrown her vote away and this means less representation for residents at the important meetings where decisions impacting the city are made.”

Cllr Bell said that over almost 20 years Cllr Mears has “devoted every single day to serving residents and spent countless hours attending, speaking up and voting for residents and the council’s committee meetings”.

He said that the council had decided to give her a chance to make a full recovery.

“The Conservative group has been covering Mary’s casework and emails, so what Cllr Fishleigh has said is not correct," he added.

'Double up yours, you f***er, Steve Bell'

The Argus then put Cllr Bell's comments to Cllr Fishleigh. 

Some readers might be offended by some of the language in her response. 

Cllr Fishleigh said: “I was on the planning committee for three years, and I stepped down so I could have more time for the ward to cover for Cllr Mears so f*** him.

“Most people thought I was really good on the committee because I read the documents, I attended practically all of the meetings, I asked questions and I went on site visits. I was quite sad to leave it, as I enjoyed it.

“I actually went to the last planning committee to represent residents from Saltdean and Rottingdean who were objecting to applications. They sent emails to all three councillors, but I was the only one who bothered to reply - that's a double up yours, you f***er Steve Bell.”

She also said that the Conservative group have been replying to residents' emails, but “there’s never any action - they just say ‘we’ll look into it for you’.”

“If the work was being covered, I wouldn’t be raising it as an issue,” she said.

'Councillors do their best to discharge duties when they can'

A spokesman for Brighton and Hove City Council said that under the Local Government Act 1972, councillors who fail to attend meetings for more than six months are disqualified from continuing in their role unless they gain prior approval from the council.

He said: "We have a scheme in place whereby councillors at risk of disqualification can apply for an extension of up to six months. This can be extended further if the appropriate committee agrees to it.

"Such extensions are usually granted in instances where the absence is beyond the councillor’s control and is also likely to be temporary.

"We do not comment on individual circumstances. However, we believe strongly that our councillors do their best to attend meetings and discharge their duties when they are able to do so."