It has taken her six years, but Tweed councillor Katie Milne has finally been vindicated in her long running battle against her own council chasing her for a minor debt incurred during her campaign against a controversial marina.
On Tuesday in Tweed Heads Local Court, Magistrate Michael Dakin dismissed the case brought against her by council for a $351.40 debt over disputed document costs related to a Land and Environment Court challenge six years ago which Cr Milne won and which later helped propel her into local politics.
Cr Milne had always maintained the action over the debt was an abuse of power by council and politically motivated.
The decision leaves council leaders red faced, including senior officers who failed to mediate the embarrassing issue, which has cost ratepayers thousands of dollars, a cost council refuses to disclose.
It has also embarrassed mayor Barry Longland and deputy mayor Michael Armstrong who both voted, at the urging of pro-development bloc councillors, to pursue the matter at the first meeting after last September’s election, despite staff recommending to drop Cr Milne and other debts totaling around $14,000.
It’s believed questions are now being asked of senior staff by some councillors about the process which led to the debt.
The pursuit of the debt was criticised in many quarters, not just Cr Milne supporters, in the face of council writing off other much larger debts, including almost $120,000 owed by organisers of the controversial world motor rally that ran in the Tweed several years ago.
Cr Milne yesterday told Echonetdaily that she had been advising council the debt, under court rules, was invalid.
She said it was ‘logical that the original judgment for costs in the Land and Environment Court could not just be ignored and a greater amount imposed by either council or a local court.
‘I obtained a barrister’s opinion two months prior to this local court hearing and immediately provided this advice to Council to circumvent this waste of money.
‘Council refused to provide any response to this advice or their legal argument. The local court has now definitively confirmed that Council has no authorisation for this bill and was in the wrong court to get it.
‘Thousands and thousands of dollars have been wasted through Council following the wrong process in this matter.
‘This conflict and the local court hearing cost the Council three senior staff to attend all day at court, three senior staff for a half day of mediation, hours and hours of compiling reports and court submissions, six years of posting monthly invoices, and six years of correspondence.
‘It wasted hours and hours of my time and money and for six years painted me unjustly a bad debtor.’
Cr Milne said she hoped council learnt from the experience and that
‘I believe that Council needs to revamp the whole way they approach conflicts.
‘By having a staff member trained in conflict resolution, and implementing proper mediation processes, it would greatly help avoid this unnecessary waste and angst, for both the community and the Council.’
Magistrate Dakin made no ruling over costs, with each party to pay their own.