Senior Tweed Shire staff have left the door open for councillors to once again pursue Greens Cr Katie Milne for a disputed $351.40 debt which a local magistrate threw out of his court last last month.
Tomorrow, councillors will consider two options put by corporate services director Troy Green to either write off the debt or pursue it through the NSW Land and Environment Court.
Ironically, Mr Green says the expense just to file a notice of motion for a cost order in that court is $384, or $30 more than the original debt.
The six-year chase by council staff to recover the so-called debt over disputed document costs relates to a land and environment court challenge six years ago against a controversial mega-marina 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.
Tweed Heads Local Court magistrate Michael Dakin last month dismissed the case brought against her, which has cost ratepayers thousands of dollars, the total of which council refuses to disclose.
In his report, Mr Green says that since councillors resolved last December to mediate and/or pursue the debt, general manager David Keenan tried but failed to negotiate the recovery of the debt.
Mr Green said Cr Milne was offered an extended period to repay the amount ‘including a five per cent reduction’.
Cr Milne at the time told Echonetdaily the negotiations and offers were laughable.
In defending the option to pursue the debt, Mr Green says he is carrying out the council resolution to pursue the debt and therefore providing options, including, as he did last year, an option recommending it be written off.
‘Im not trying to get into a slanging match with Cr Milne, I’m just carrying out the council resolution,’ he told Echonetdaily this morning.
In his report, Mr Green says further action to pursue the debt could be taken due to the magistrate ‘not ruling the debt as invalid’.
‘In fact His Honour gave commentary on sections 608 through to 610 of the Local Government Act 1993 which allows Council to charge for information supplied.
‘His honour only ruled on jurisdiction and advised Council to recover the debt through the Land and Environment Court,’ Mr Green said.
There was no ruling made over costs.
Mr Green also says in his report that ‘it should be noted, 433 Statements of Liquidated Claims have been issued by the Councul in the preceding 12 months of which 432 have been satisfactorily completed by obtaining either court judgment, negotiating a payment arrangement, payment in full, mediation and resolution. The only exception is the current matter’.
Late last year council resolved to write off several bad debts, including one for thousands of dollars which was wrongly credited to a transport company and never reimbursed as that company no longer exists.
The pursuit of Cr Milne’s minor 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.
The vote last year to pursue the debt was unanimous, urged on by pro-development bloc councillors at the first official meeting of Council after last September’s election.
Cr Milne says thousands of dollars have been wasted through Council following the wrong process to pursue the matter and urged a revamp of he whole way they approach conflicts.
‘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,’ she said.