A walkout by the three National Party-aligned councillors during last Thursday’s Tweed Shire Council meeting has riled Greens mayor Katie Milne who raised concerns about two of them for claiming phone and internet expenses without providing the proper paperwork.
Crs Warren Polglase, Phil Youngblutt and Carolyn Byrne deprived the meeting of a quorum by their staged walkout, which came after the mayor refused to accept a late report dealing with disputed councillor expense claims.
The meeting will resume this Thursday at 9am after Crs Polglase and Barry Longland called for an extraordinary meeting to deal with the disputed claims rather than wait for the next council meeting next month.
Cr Milne, who has joint responsibility with council’s public officer for authorising councillor expenses, ruled the report was not of ‘great urgency’ and should not circumvent the normal eight days public notice required for it to be dealt with.
The late report in contention, from the independent chair of the Audit Committee, was put up by staff the night before the council meeting (http://www.tweed.nsw.gov.au/Controls/Meetings/Documents/Addendum(b30)CouncilAgenda10December2015.pdf).
She said her ‘main concern’ with the councillor claims was that Crs Byrne and Polglase had been claiming telephone and internet expenses ‘but had only provided an invoice from their businesses with simple totals, rather than the accounts from the original providers’.
‘They had consistently claimed the maximum amounts allowable of $220 for telephone and $99 for internet,’ Cr Milne told Echonetdaily.
‘The policy clearly states that proper documentation is to be provided, no general expense allowances are to be paid, and claims must be strictly related to our civic duties only,’ she said.
Cr Milne also took aim at Cr Youngblutt for what she claimed was a ‘threat’ by him saying that councillors would soon remove the mayor from the role of approving expenses.
‘The NSW guidelines for councillor expenses provides that claims must be authorised by the mayor or nominee and the public officer,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘It would be extremely alarming if councillors removed the mayor from this role just because I was attempting to enforce proper practices,’ the mayor said.
Aviation magazine claim
Cr Milne said her ‘concern’ with Cr Longland ‘was less serious in that he had claimed for the monthly Austraian Aviation magazine when our policy clearly stated only claims for newspapers are allowed’.
‘I didn’t imagine Cr Longland would be too worried about not receiving $9.95 claim for his magazines, but this was not the case and he insisted on being paid.,’ she said.
‘I gave Crs Byrne and Polglase every opportunity to submit appropriate invoices. Unfortunately this was not forthcoming.
‘I had no choice but to refer the disputed claims to the Chair of the Audit Committee in accordance with our policy.
‘I had also raised these concerns with the General Manager and about a number of other expense queries that were less clear and he subsequently initiated a full independent review of the policy.
‘The Audit Chair made a preliminary finding that councillors Byrne and Polglase must submit the original provider accounts but that their expenses should continue to be paid until the review of the policy is finalised.
‘He also found that a magazine can be defined as a newspaper,’ Cr Milne said.