During a meeting of the full council, Carl Walker (Lab, Selden) said there was a ‘whiff of casual misogyny’ in the way questions from female members of the Labour group were answered.
It was an accusation dismissed by leader Daniel Humphreys as an ‘unfounded ad hominem attack’.
Mr Walker spoke following an exchange of views between Mr Humphreys and Labour leader Rebecca Cooper on the issue of the council’s investments in commercial properties.
Dr Cooper raised concerns about what she felt was the council’s ‘dependency’ on such investments.
She told the meeting she hoped the administration ‘would be jumping up and down’ about the need for central government to properly invest in local authorities, reducing the need for those investments to be made.
Responding to her points, Mr Humphreys said the investments were ‘delivering a good return for the council’, pointedly repeating the phrase ‘jumping up and down’ twice.
It was this that prompted Mr Walker to speak, also complaining that Helen Silman (Lab, Heene) had been accused of ‘harping on’ at a previous meeting.
He said: “We’ve got reasonable questions being asked about the reports that are being put forward. Very reasonable questions asked in a very reasonable tone.
“There’s a whiff of casual misogyny in the way that these are being responded to.”
Following the meeting Dr Cooper said Labour would be asking the Local Government Association for advice and support about an issue ‘which should have no part in local government in the 21st century’.
She added: “It is noticeable that the female members of our group, myself included, often receive inappropriate and derogatory comments of the kind that male councillors would not receive in similar circumstances.”
Dr Cooper said she was worried that some women were being put off entering local politics ‘by the behaviour that they witness in these council meetings’.
She added: “I am aware that by challenging the administration, we are likely to encounter resistance and perhaps defensiveness. It’s been a long time since there was an effective and competent opposition in Worthing.
“But, it’s a common experience that, when I or a fellow female Labour councillor state a point of view, we are dismissed or put down, as though we were out of line for doing our job.”
Mr Humphreys said: “Not only are the allegations unfounded they are deeply hypocritical.”
He claimed the only sexist comment he had heard in the chamber during his nine years as a councillor had come from a Labour member ‘who mocked a female councillor’s speaking style describing it as high decibel and flailing arms’.
Accusing Labour councillors of using the misogyny claims to move attention away from their recent voting decisions, Mr Humphreys said: “They voted against allocating money to deal with the consequences of Covid-19, investing in more social housing and putting forward funding for a pay rise for refuse collectors and other council staff.
“Labour councillors opposed everything and are now trying to distract people’s attention with these unfounded attacks.”
He added: “Rather than constantly putting politics before people, Labour councillors should focus on doing the job they were elected to do.”
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