Audit approves councillor’s claims
COUNCILLOR Carolyn Byrne’s disputed travel expenses claims will be reimbursed and donated to non-profit organisation Save the Koala, after another heated debate at Thursday night’s Tweed Shire Council meeting.
The debate over councillor expenses followed a review called for by Mayor Katie Milne at previous meetings, after she questioned the travel and telephone expenses of fellow councillors.
Councillors on Thursday voted in favour of a recommendation that Cr Byrne be reimbursed for nine occasions of travel, despite Cr Milne’s questioning of the expenses.
In the review, the chairman of the Audit Committee found Cr Byrne’s justification for the claim fell “short of an acceptable level of evidence by a reasonable commercial standard of governance.”
However, the review found, based on previous practice, Cr Byrne should still be reimbursed.
But the decision was questioned by Cr Gary Bagnall and the mayor, who voted against the recommendation.
“I think any reasonable person on council business wouldn’t have had a problem saying where they went,” Cr Bagnall said.
“This councillor, who I believe is to be voted on this weekend to represent the National Party (in the federal seat of Richmond), how do I know they weren’t out gathering support?”
Cr Warren Polglase said he found it “unusual for one of my colleagues to carry on with those sorts of comments”.
“This is a well-respected chairman and he made a determination which he felt was correct at the time, and one we should respect,” Cr Polglase said.
Cr Carolyn Byrne expressed her frustration at being the subject of expense inquiries since the mayoral election last September.
“I’m really disappointed at the fact that part of the story has come out, part of the story has gone to the media, some of it is being used on Facebook and the truth is not necessarily there,” Cr Byrne said.
“I have advised the mayor that if she had any issues with any of my claims that I didn’t care whether she’s paid them or not.”
Cr Milne stressed she was driving the questioning over expense claims to improve transparency.
“I passed it into the audit chair because I believed there was a lack of transparency, and we have an obligation under the Local Government Act to be transparent,” she said.
Cr Byrne withdrew her expenses claims for December 2015 and later pledged to donate her reimbursed expenses to the Save the Koala charity.
Her pledge followed earlier debate over the koala gate debate at Pottsville, which was deferred to a workshop.