By Danika Dent
TWO South Gippsland Shire councillors have been accused of spending up and electioneering on the ratepayers’ teat.
At last Wednesday’s council meeting, the usually procedural ‘Councillor Expenditure Report – 30 June 2016’ was highlighted by Cr Lorraine Brunt.
She noted Crs Don Hill and Andrew McEwen’s recent spending.
“I note there is a range of what it costs councillors to do their business,” Cr Brunt said, before commenting on the discrepancies in the report, which shows councillor expenses for the previous 12 months.
She accused Crs Hill and McEwen of billing ratepayers for delivering their controversial newsletters.
“I think there’s a bit of electioneering going on,” Cr Brunt said before Crs Hill and McEwen objected.
Told to speak to the motion by the Mayor Bob Newton, Cr Brunt continued: “I’d say their newsletters have cost this council quite a bit in driving to deliver them.”
Crs Hill and McEwen’s use of their personal cars cost $8340 and $9021 respectively; $4770 more than the mayor’s at $4251.
Cr Brunt was referring to the controversial ward newsletters distributed by Crs Hill and McEwen.
Cr Hill was criticised in April for using council resources to print 5000 double-sided newsletters at a cost of $1047.
Councillors voted soon after to firm up a policy and restrict councillors using council resources for personal use.
Nothing to answer for
Cr Don Hill said Cr Brunt’s comments were part of a “smear campaign” against him.
“It’s not true at all,” he said.
“I paid for them [latest newsletters] myself and I posted them out through Australia post at my own expense,” Cr Hill said.
“The first newsletters were delivered by me and friends, so was of no expense to council either.”
Cr Hill said using his personal car for council business was actually saving council money.
“Those figures are not quite right,” he said, of other councillors’ lower costs by comparison.
“There’s no way a councillor car is costing less.
“Don’t forget, council would have to buy the car, pay maintenance, petrol and it hasn’t been costed in that there’s someone on staff to manage the car.
“There’s no way that a council car, over four years at $4500 say, could cost $18,000; it doesn’t make sense.”
Cr Hill said if re-elected he would cancel councillor cars.
Last year’s Councillor Expenditure Report show Crs Hill and McEwen claimed $6448 and $7716 respectively.
In the same period fleet car vehicles cost up to $9828 (Cr Mohya Davies).
The car operating costs include depreciation, insurance and notional interest.
Cr Hill had another discrepancy to highlight in the report.
In the expenses document tabled on Wednesday, Crs Hill and McEwen use printing/sound recording transcripts the most – $1556, and $834 respectively.
Cr Hill said those costs had been retrospectively added to councillor expenses.
“The policy was changed to include them in our expenditure report, where previously it was under the CEO and governance’s budget area.
“Really, if you look at the report, we’ve actually spent less than what was budgeted for.
“It was budgeted for $382,256, but we saved $16,000.
“Cr Brunt is suggesting we’re overspending, but actually we’re under budget.
“If you really wanted to examine it, you should really be looking at councillors who did courses.
“Cr Brunt and Cr Davies both started courses [Diploma of Local Government with Cr Kennedy] but didn’t finish it.”
Crs Brunt and Davies said they had family and health commitments that prevented them from completing the course.
“They could’ve re-enrolled when things settled down, but they didn’t.
“That cost us thousands.”
Kennedy’s big spend
Cr Kieran Kennedy, who has been in council for over 15 years was another big spender in the report.
Included in the report is a cost to Cr Kennedy of $2400 to complete a Diploma of Local Government.
The previous year his courses cost $13,718.
The accusations could hardly come at a worse time, as councillors gear up for the October elections, and in the midst of Cr Kieran Kennedy being found by an independent arbiter to have breached the councillor code of conduct clause 9, “ensure that public resources are used prudently and solely in the public interest”.
How that occurred, but listed in the minutes from the ‘in camera’ meeting, remain confidential.
Cr Kennedy has been sanctioned by council and ordered to issue a written apology to the councillors and CEO.