A longrunning pursuit by Tweed Shire Council of a $350 debt incurred by Greens councillor Katie Milne during her fight against a controversial marina six years ago has ended up in court for a ruling today.
But Cr Milne maintains the action over the debt, incurred before her election in 2008, is an abuse of power by Council and politically motivated. Attempts at court-ordered mediation have failed.
Cr Milne’s success in the marina campaign led to her popular election in 2008.
She says the case, set for a decision by a magistrate in Tweed Heads Local Court, has cost ratepayers thousands of dollars to date and she shouldn’t have to pay the sum as a matter of principle.
Two years ago, former council general manager Mike Rayner quietly dropped the action to recover the $351.40, saying the cost of pursuing it would ‘outweigh the size of the debt’.
Then at the first formal council meeting after last September’s election, staff recommended writing off seven long-standing debts totalling $14,110, including $351.40 staff say were costs incurred by the council when subpoenaed by Cr Milne to produce documents for the NSW Land and Environment Court during her battle against the proposed Chinderah marina development in 2006.
Council staff at the time said they’d made all reasonable efforts to pursue the debts and further attempts to recover them would fail and not be cost effective, nor legally recoverable if they fell under the statue of limitations.
But her political rival on the conservative bloc, Cr Warren Polglase, led a successful charge to recoup Cr Milne’s debt, saying it could be seen as councillors ‘looking after their mates’.
All the other much larger debts were written off. One, for several thousand dollars, was incurred by mistake as staff paid the wrong contractor, who never returned the money.
Attempts to recover Cr Milne’s debt since then have failed and Council has pursued court action, as directed by majority councillors last September.
Cr Milne told Echonetdaily yesterday that Council had brought the costs upon itself by requiring she file several subpoenas for information she requested and had further wasted $5,000 in barrister fees trying to block the release of documents related to the marina.
She said she had already paid $800 in costs as ordered by the Land and Environment Court.
Cr Milne says council’s long-running demands to pay the small amount puzzles her ‘when they continually fail to take legal action against some developers for unauthorised work, allowing them to seek retrospective approvals’.
The Combined Community Groups of the Tweed, an organisation representing over 20 business, community and environmental groups, which helped fund the marina fight, backed Cr Milne.
The group’s secretary at the time, Clinton Beisler, whose fellow members raised the $800 in costs ordered by the court, said Council was ‘out of line in chasing her up for this dubious debt. As far as we are concerned she has met all her legal obligations.’