NINE out of Mornington Peninsula Shire’s 11 councillors have voted in favour of their colleague Anthony Marsh being able to spend more than $8000 on a director’s course.
The money will come from the $16,000 each councillor is allowed to spend on courses or conferences during their four-year term.
Cr Steve Holland, the only dissenting councillor during debate at the council’s 1 June online meeting, said spending the money “doesn’t pass the pub test”.
“I know councillors can spend $16,000 on conferences and training, but this needs to be linked to community benefit,” he said.
“I don’t know how this can be justified … especially when we reject submissions [for council money] all the time that are of a similar or lesser value to this.
“In my view, I don’t see $8000 of value to community here. I think Cr Marsh will be the direct personal beneficiary of the majority of that value.
“We need to be funding community projects and not giving councillors a leg-up into the company directors’ circuit.”
Cr Kerri McCafferty described Cr Marsh as a person of “integrity and honesty” and a “critical thinker” who she often looked to for guidance.
She would be “leaning towards” Cr Holland’s assessment if the course was being undertaken towards the end of Cr Marsh’s four-term term but thought the community and council would benefit with three and a half years to go.
“There is a lot of benefit here, and an area where [Cr Marsh] would thrive and bring a lot of benefit back to the council,” Cr McCafferty said.
Amanda Sapolu, head of governance and legal, in a report to council’s 1 June meeting said the five-day Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) company directors’ course “is widely promoted as an essential qualification for company directors and those decision makers in similar roles”. It was a course supported by the Municipal Association of Victoria “as a key qualification for councillors”.
Cr Paul Mercurio said he had “watched quite a few … councillors take courses – whether worth $400 or $4000 – and can see the return for the community is well worth it”.
He did not believe any councillor would take a course without being sure it would benefit the community.
“The point is, we are able to spend money so we can be better councillors for our community,” Cr Mercurio said.
“So yes, we could use that $8000 to fix or help with some drainage or a very small bit of footpath, but the fact of the matter is we’re here to help with our community and that’s what that allocation of funding is for – $16,000 over four years is for our community.”
Cr David Gill supported councillors being able to spend the $16,000 on conferences and training although “it’s a decision for each councillor, I’ve never taken a course that I didn’t pay for”.
“Councillors should make sure the purpose is valid and [the benefits] returned to our community and not just personal.”
The expenses of individual councillors are only listed for discussion on the council agenda if it is more than $2000.
The shire’s website shows that Cr Sarah Race has spent $2387 of her conference and training allowance, closely followed by Cr Debra Mar, $2236. Other councillors to have used some of this allowance are Cr Antonella Celi, $1770, the mayor Cr Despi O’Connor, $1454, Cr Lisa Dixon, $1336 and Cr McCafferty $1054.
Two councillors have claimed child care expenses: Cr McCafferty $2339 and Cr Race $418.
When it comes to claiming for travel in their own vehicles, Cr Celi has claimed $2971,Cr Dixon $2481, Cr Holland $2458, Cr Mar $2194, Cr McCafferty $1670, Cr Hugh Fraser (who retired in March) $1576 and Cr Race $822.