A bid by Tweed mayor Katie Milne to improve accountability and transparency in the reporting of councillors’ monthly expenses has rebounded.
The Greens mayor has been controversially stripped of her role by her political rivals in approving their claims in what’s seen as a ‘pay back’ late change of council rules.
But the bitter row over the issue has not ended, with Cr Milne calling for the monthly expenses claims be reported in council’s business papers.
The move is bound to bristle her National Party dominated opponents and their ally Cr Barry Longland once again at council’s meeting later this month.
And adding fuel to the fire, the mayor recently questioned the lack of basic details on development-site visits by one of her opponents, and that councillor has strongly objected to.
Late last month, councillors voted to put council’s new draft policy on expenses on public exhibition for 28 days, but in a surprise late amendment spearheaded by Cr Longland, the mayor’s traditional role of reporting on or approving expense claims was removed.
In a fiery debate, Cr Milne told councillors she had been ‘threatened’ with being sacked of her approval authority if she continued ‘following up’ the expenses issue.
The mayor and Cr Longland, who moved the amendments which included sacking her from her role overseeing expense claims, clashed several times as he pushed for allowing $250 per month to be claimed by councillors on all phone and internet costs on presentation of a statement of account.
Cr Milne had previously criticised the use by some of her opponents of a statement of account from their personal business companies to claim their expenses, saying it was inappropriate, but Cr Longland said the distinction between private use and public use was sometimes ‘burdensome’.
The mayor told council Cr Longland’s move to remove her from the role was a ‘disappointing act’ because ‘it was clearly said to me if I followed these expenses I would be removed as my approval authority, that’s what’s been suggested now’.
But the quest to make councillors’ claims more transparent and accountable with her notice of motion at the upcoming meeting is bound to fail again, as Cr Longland and the National Party-aligned faction of Crs Warren Polglase, Carolyn Byrne and Phil Youngblutt have the numbers on the six-seat council since Labor’s Cr Michael Armstrong suddenly quit last year.
The issue has been brewing for months, and flared up again recently when one of the pro-development faction councillors complained that Cr Milne had refused to sign off on their expense claims on visits to development sites around the shire, with the mayor asking for basic information on where they went and who they met with.
A longtime council watcher told Echonetdaily that the move to remove Cr Milne from the overseeing expense claims was ‘pay back’ for her clamping down on them.
‘The mayor is to be commended on her due diligence, conscience and consideration of proper accountability, however it is now unfortunate those qualities have been removed from the process simply for speaking up,’ Lindy Smith, a Tweed Heads community campaigner, wrote in a letter to the editor this week.
Cr Milne has been under concerted pressure from her political rivals since becoming mayor just four months ago in a surprise tie-breaking draw ballot.
Cr Gary Bagnall was elected deputy mayor in the same fashion but both have been outnumbered in council on major controversial issues since, and the air poisoned by personal rivalries and conflicts.
Last month, Cr Milne said Cr Longland’s reneging on his deal with her for the shire to look into sustainable options for its water-supply was ‘one of the most shocking political moves’ she had experienced in her seven years on Tweed Shire Council.