CEO casts doubt on council cost comparisons

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Mornington Peninsula Shire CEO Carl Cowie is questioning the veracity of figures which show shire councillor expenses far exceed those at neighbouring councils.

A ratepayer at last Monday evening’s public council meeting asked Mr Cowie to explain why shire councillors’ expenses in the previous 2012-16 council term “are so high in comparison” to Kingston and Frankston (“Shire’s councillors are costly”, The News 14/11/16).

Eleven shire councillors claimed $616,712 in ratepayer-funded expenses over four years compared to $205,329 for Frankston’s nine councillors and $101,807 for Kingston’s nine councillors over the same period.

Mr Cowie said he doubted the expenses were a “like with like” comparison and “after a discussion with Matt Green, chief financial officer, it seems that these numbers do not have the same things included for comparison”.

“We will find out more information about what is included in the Frankston and Kingston numbers, but our councillor expenses are well explained in each annual report,” Mr Cowie said.

“So, unfortunately, this is probably not reported accurately in the media but we will get you a correct answer to this.”

No-one at council had questioned or disputed any media reports about shire councillor expenses before Mr Cowie’s public comments last Monday (28 November).

The shire refused to disclose councillor expenses spending for the full 2012-16 council term until after October’s council elections (“Four-month delay on costs”, The News 21/11/16).

Both Frankston and Kingston councils listed councillor expenses in annual reports for the full four years of the previous 2012-16 council terms.

The shire listed expenses for just two of the four years in its annual reports after the state government forced all councils to publish councillor expenses from the 2014-15 financial year onwards.

The shire councillor expenses figures had been requested by The News for four months before the shire released the expenses information after the elections.

Three councillors –  Antonella Celi,  Hugh Fraser and  Bev Colomb – were re-elected to council.

Seven former councillors decided not to stand for re-election.

David Garnock missed out on re-election to Kate Roper in Cerberus ward.

Shire councillor spending on training, conferences and seminars far outstripped Frankston and Kingston councillor expenses over four years, according to figures officially released by all three councils.

Shire councillors spent $121,154 on such expenses over four years; Frankston councillors spent $52,293; and Kingston councillors spent just $5135 on two training courses.

Shire chief financial officer Matt Green, who began work at council seven months ago, has refused to provide details or the names of any courses, conferences and seminars attended by shire councillors during the previous four-year council term.

Despite the refusal to provide a breakdown of shire councillor expenses it seems the shire can allocate staff time and resources to analyse Frankston and Kingston councillor expenses.

Shire councillors – including eight newly-elected representatives – plan to agree on a new councillor expenses policy in February next year after receiving a report from a council-appointed committee.

Mr Cowie was appointed council CEO in December 2014. He succeeded Michael Kennedy who was shire CEO for nearly 16 years.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 6 December 2016

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