Online rebuff over ‘no charge’ verdict


MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire Council’s reversal of a decision not to pursue Cr Antonella Celi for thousands of dollars she allegedly spent over her allowances has sparked an intense backlash through social media.

Since the decision was published by The News social media came alive with descriptions of the backflip being “disgusting” and “double standards” to questions of whether residents should be pursued for not paying rates (“Council drops costs recovery bid” The News 31/5/16).

At their 23 May meeting, a majority of councillors voted to reverse an earlier decision for the shire to seek repayment from Cr Celi of what appeared to be about $9000 over her allocated allowance. The motion agreed that there had been “no overpayment”.

Councillors are entitled to $4000 a year, or $16,000 over the four-year council term.

At a meeting in February chief financial officer Matt Hubbard said the extra expenses incurred by Cr Celi were approved by council resolution for “additional professional education programs governed by examinations”.

He said this type of spending was available to all councillors.

But the explanation has not stopped social media participants venting their anger over council’s reluctance to label the allowance blowout as overspending, or to chase Cr Celi for the money.

“Disgusting, what if we decided not to pay rates,” Glenys Holmes stated.

Another poster, Mollie Chook, criticised the council for charging residents interest on rates not paid on time.

“And yet council charges us interest if our rates are overdue and slashed jobs in the libraries. Not good enough.”

One poster, “Goose Kev”, called for all councillors to “lead by example”, adding that council employees’ positions would be “under review” if they overspent.

Another, Amy Kirk-Williams, said the $9000 Cr Celi spent over her budget was a significant amount that could house a struggling family for a year or two.

“Double standards and contradiction is all these people are. It absolutely infuriates me that these people make ‘mistakes’ and get away with it,” she wrote.

While some posters questioned where the money was spent, Cr Celi last week told The News that all expenses were approved and that most had gone into training and education.

Cr Celi has been completing a $10,000 diploma in local government since early in her term on council. Last week she told The News that part of the $28,520 spent during the four year term was spent on conferences and other training requirements, with some costs incurred during her time as may, when councillors are allocated a larger budget.

Cr Hugh Fraser, who opposed last fortnight’s motion to cease pursuit of the money, said he intends to rescind the motion at the first meeting of council after the July break.

See Letters … here

First published in the Mornington News – 7 June 2016


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