Tweed mayor sidelined over bitter expenses row

Tweed mayor Katie Milne has been removed from her mayoral role overseeing councillor expense claims after she tried to 'enhance accountability'.

Tweed mayor Katie Milne has been removed from her mayoral role overseeing councillor expense claims after she tried to ‘enhance accountability’.

Luis Feliu

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.

Cr Barry Longland spearheaded the move to remove the mayor from her role overseeing councillor expense claims. he also recently reneged on his deal with Cr Milne for the shire to look into sustainable options for its water-supply.

Cr Barry Longland spearheaded the move to remove the mayor from her role overseeing councillor expense claims. He also recently reneged on his deal with Cr Milne for the shire to look into sustainable options for its water-supply.

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.



5 responses to “Tweed mayor sidelined over bitter expenses row”

  1. Steve Hoare says:

    Claims for private use of phones and internet services should be subject to a ‘reasonableness test’, beginning of story/end of story. This is the ‘best practice’ approach taken by all good managers of the public interest – including the Australian Tax Office.
    It is wrong to portray nit-picking and pedantic questioning of every single call/email sent as due diligence – it is a waste of Council time and resources.
    Nothing reasonable has been presented by anyone in this sterile debate to indicate that the minor claims submitted by Councillors are in any way unreasonable.
    Please publish these comments.

  2. Jeff Johnson says:

    What a disgrace that some Tweed Councillors feel that they need $250 per month from ratepayers to pay for their business phone accounts? In Ballina we are allowed to claim up to $80 per month for phone/internet expenses (by providing evidence of expenses) which is reasonable.

    Personally speaking, my unlimited mobile phone plan is $80 per month and my home internet plan is also $80 per month. Being able to claim half of these expenses is fair enough in my opinion.

    The story also mentions that Tweed Councillors are claiming expenses for visits to development sites without providing details. That sounds dodgy as! For Ballina Shire Councillors the official policy is that we are not allowed to meet with developers unless there is a staff member present, and preferably, the meetings should take place at the Council chambers with more than one Councillor present. Again, a reasonable policy.

    Congratulations to Tweed Mayor Katie Milne for trying to make Councillors more accountable, which can only lead to more respect and confidence in the decision making process of our locally elected officials.

    Cr Jeff Johnson
    Ballina Shire Councillor

  3. Ken says:

    Mayor Milne’s actions betray a near suicidal disregard for long-standing traditions which are shared by all local government bodies.
    Councillors have an inalienable right to have both hands in the till, while pursuing their objectives of furthering theirs, and selected client’s financial objectives. Any reporting of ‘legitimate’ expenses would obviously be counter-productive and embarrassing, and will not happen while ever there are a majority of councillors ready to partake of this smorgasbord of ratepayers funds.
    If council should ever be dominated by honourable and honest representatives, such reporting would be unquestioned. However I, for one, will not be holding my breath until this should come about.

  4. Banora Point Voter says:

    Once again Barry Longland shows his true colours. He is clearly more interested in power and self-promotion than being transparent and honest about expenses with residents. He’s no progressive, he’s just another stooge for conservative politics in a Nation needing to rediscover its moral and ethical foundation.

  5. Chris Cherry says:

    Thanks Mayor Milne for trying to require our Council representatives to provide itemized details for things they want to claim as expenses. It is a reasonable request and required by any business. Why is this move to increase transparency and accountability of our Councillors so steadfastly rejected? What have they got to hide?
    Considering the history of Councillors on the Tweed and the example provided by other Northern Rivers Shires, such as Ballina, I, as a ratepayer, would be much happier if my elected representatives freely provided their itemized expense claims. I am happy to pay reasonable expenses, is it too much to ask what they were for?

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