MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire officers have been ordered to compile up to date figures on how much councillors have spent on conferences and seminars.
The statistics dating back four years are to be delivered by 10 March and follow the release last month of a table which showed at least two councillors had overspent their $16,000 four-yearly allowance.
It has been alleged that some figures in the table were inaccurate.
However, any over-spending will have to be repaid by councillors within six months of the 10 March deadline.
“The onus is on us to make sure we don’t overspend ratepayers’ money. We’re the responsible people, we’re the people that spend the money. Anyone who’s overspent any council money, they should pay it back. It’s ratepayers’ money,” Cr Bev Colomb said.
The decision calling for an accurate update on spending by individual councillors was made last week during a tense and sometimes bitter two-hour debate.
A failed attempt was made to widen the information to all councillor spending, including stationery, vehicle use and babysitting.
The move to have spending figures released was raised in a notice of motion by Cr Hugh Fraser. The information it requires to be supplied will include details of revised amounts listed in the disputed table:
- The sum involved in each item.
- To whom the money was paid.
- The goods or services obtained.
- The date of each payment.
These requirements echo a resolution passed by councillors last 23 November requiring Cr Fraser and the mayor Cr Graham Pittock to provide councillors with “a fully itemised expenditure report” relating to their attendance at the COP21 Paris 2015 World Environment Conference.
Cr Fraser was also required pay back any spending above his total allowance of $16,000 over the four-year council term. All councillors have a $4000 annual allowance. Mayors get an additional $3500 in their mayoral year.
With Cr Andrew Dixon absent from the meeting, several votes were tied at five-all. Cr Pittock used his casting vote to decide a number of contentious matters.
Cr Gibb moved that the Fraser motion be amended to include all councillor spending over the period. This was rejected.
Councillors Gibb, Antonella Celi and Anne Shaw had strongly disputed advice from governance manager Joe Spiteri that the Gibb amendment should be debated following Cr Fraser’s motion. They were unsuccessful.
Cr Celi immediately moved Cr Gibb’s amendment again, and again sought Mr Spiteri’s guidance on the status of her proposal. He repeated his advice.
Cr Lynn Bowden said the figures in the table were “very inaccurate” but this did not reflect on current shire finance officers. An example of inaccuracy was that Cr Tim Wood joined council in late August 2014 but was listed as having spent nearly $8300 before he was elected. (Frank Martin was Red Hill ward councillor before Cr Wood’s election.)
Councillor spending should be documented “to the last cent”, so the community can see how their money is being spent, Cr Bowden said.
Cr David Garnock supported Cr Colomb in wanting all councillor expenses checked as part of one process, which would save the time of compiling the figures a bit at a time.
Cr Wood said it was urgent to release the correct figures. The public had been supplied with information that was inaccurate, he said.
“It’s absolutely fundamental for responsible government that elected representatives and council officers are wholly responsible and accountable to the public,” Cr Wood said.
The vote to approve the motion was 7-0, with councillors Gibb, Shaw and Celi abstaining.
Cr Celi then introduced an item of urgent business, identical to that which she and Cr Gibb had failed to introduce as an amendment to Cr Fraser’s notice of motion – that all councillor expenses be released.
Amid manoeuvring on how to deal with overspending, Cr Celi said the allowances matter “should be struck out at this stage pending further notice and advice.”
She mentioned several times that total councillor cost to ratepayers was some $55,000, but did not explain how this figure related to the matter being discussed.
Cr Celi, speaking without the aid of her microphone, could be heard arguing that the resolution did not align with any council processes and policies. “It should be struck out and not considered whatsoever.”
Later, her microphone apparently again not working, Cr Celi could faintly be heard from the gallery arguing that “this whole business is an allegation against fellow councillors. It is an allegation that should be struck off the record.”
After further discussion of what Cr Colomb described as “this very upsetting moment”, the motion was carried. Council will get the revised material on 10 March then discuss how overspending, if any, is to be repaid.
- The decisions follow an article in The News, “Council nod to lift expenses” (9/2/16), which reported that a table provided to councillors showed several councillors had overspent their allocation for seminars and conferences.
According to the table Cr Antonella Celi had overspent her entitlement of $19,500 by some $11,300 and Cr David Gibb had overspent his allowance by $3147.
The News incorrectly showed Cr Celi’s overspend as 92 per cent. This did not include the additional $3500 allowed to her in her mayoral year. Including this, her overspend was 65 per cent, according to the table.