DRAFT COUNCILLOR EXPENDITURE POLICY – COUNCIL MEETING
Cr Fraser – This management report and recommendation that Council adopt a new Councillor Expenditure Policy has its genesis in the January 2016 disclosure by management to Council that two councillors’ Conferences and Seminars accounts exceeded Council’s policy limits.
Council acted decisively to deal with this matter on 22 February and later on 26 April requiring details of this overspend and directing management to require one councillor to pay any sum in excess of the sum of $19,500.
However, management failed to take action on the latter decision of Council. Indeed, its first response to this matter was to point the finger at Council claiming that Council’s Conferences and Seminars expenses Policy was ambiguous and required amendment.
This is nonsense because on 5 occasions over the last 4 years in relation to 8 councillors’ claims for these expenses, management has unequivocally reported in writing to meetings of Council that the limits for each councillor are $4,000 per annum or $16,000 per term. The Mayor has additional $3,500 per annum available.
Indeed, our Manager Governance told a meeting of Council on 23 November 2015 that “There is no scope for expenditure beyond that $16,000 over the 4 years term.” Neither management nor councillors could be any doubt as to these policy limits.
But the matter does not end there. Management sought legal advice at the request of an unnamed “one councillor”. However, management left out of the instructions to the lawyers the written management reports to Council I have referred to and the consequent legal advice was compromised.
The Council decision as to repayment was reversed by Council on 23 May 2016 without any explanation by management.
All this is sufficient to excite the interest of the Audit Committee under the “high standards of corporate governance”, “audit functions” and “ethical environment” provisions of its Charter. These provisions are essential checks and balances in the good governance and transparency of the Shire.
I am a member of the Audit Committee with full voting rights equally with the other four members including three Chartered Accountants. It’s 8 February 2016 Charter from this Council entities me to raise any issue I believe relevant.
However, Cr Gibb, with the subsequent approval of Council on 6 June 2016, inserted a “delegates” clause into the Councillor Code of Conduct requiring me to exercise my deliberative vote on behalf of Council representing the views of Council. On 11 July 2016 Cr Shaw moved and Cr Colomb seconded a motion then passed by Council that management report to Council on the Audit Committee terms of reference and scope of its Charter and powers.
The result of this process is that no councillor, whether a member of the Audit Committee or not, has the authority to table at a meeting of the Audit Committee material for investigation by the Audit Committee without the consent of Council. I do not accept this.
All this directly impacts on the independence of the Audit Committee and good governance of the Shire. The Audit Committee last met on Wednesday 17 August 2016 and in attendance were Crs Celi and Shaw who are not members of the Audit Committee.
Accordingly, I am unable to support this new expenses policy which seeks to “paper over” what still remains to be explained by management as to how all this has occurred.