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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Councillor debt written off

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Luis Feliu

The six year old pursuit of a Tweed councillor over a disputed claim for $351 would appear to be motivated by personality and not commercial reality if it continued, according to Tweed deputy mayor Michael Armstrong.

Cr Armstrong successfully moved to write off the debt by Greens Cr Katie Milne last Thursday, telling Tweed Council the ‘long and tedious’ issue had already been ‘thrashed out too many times’.

Cr Armstrong was applauded by the public gallery when he said that continuing the pursuit ‘beggars belief’ as it would be wasting ratepayer money.

‘It doesn’t matter who it is, the commercial reality is that you don’t spend thousands of dollars to get $350.’

Councillors voted 4–2 (Crs Warren Polglase and Phil Youngblutt against) to write the debt off, which Cr Milne had always maintained was an abuse of power by council and politically motivated.

Cr Armstrong said council had already exceeded the amount of the disputed debt ‘multiple times over’.

The dispute stemmed from a council claim over costs of producing documents in the campaign by Cr Milne, before she became a councillor, to stop a controversial marina at Chinderah.

Last month a local court threw out the case brought on by council, ruling it should have been heard in the Land and Environment Court where the original case over the marina was dealt with.

Cr Milne’s political foe Cr Phil Youngblutt did not get a seconder for his motion to pursue the debt ‘to the limit’ saying it should be pursued ‘regardless of the cost’.

Cr Carolyn Byrne said the money should be paid because Cr Milne was in a public role.

But Cr Gary Bagnall said he admired Cr Milne for sticking to her principles and fighting, on behalf of the people of the Tweed, ‘for the environment and the care of the river’.

‘People admire her for taking on the fight for them so they can have a beautiful river,’ Cr Bagnall said.

Corporate services director Troy Green, who is now acting general manager, had put forward two options last week to either write off the debt or pursue it through the NSW Land and Environment Court.

Sacked general manager David Keenan tried but failed to negotiate the recovery of the debt, offering an extended period to repay the amount ‘including a five per cent reduction’.

The pursuit of the debt was criticised in many quarters, especially in the face of council writing off almost $120,000 owed by organisers of the controversial world motor rally that ran in the Tweed several years ago.

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