The Herald-Sun has published an expose by Jen Kelly on the front page of today’s newspaper. The report summarises Council expenditure on various junkets and other expenses all paid for by Council funded credit cards.
Whilst we have not yet made a comparison of the information published with other council expense statements – Which are due out at the end of this month. What is clear is that the use of Council funded credit cards are widely open to abuse.
In the previous 12 months the City of Melbourne has spent over $130,000 on credit with the Lord Mayor, john So and senior officers using Council funded credit cards as a means of ready available personal cash. Whilst some of this money is refunded to the Council the Council still has to foots the bill for interest payments.
Still missing from the Councils expense account is the detail expenditure of the Lord Mayor and deputy Lord Mayor’s Limousine costs. The costs of Internal Catering including free booze made available for senior staff and Councillors.
The City Council has yet to respond to our request for the publication of these expenses. Linda Weatherstone, City Council Governance Officers continues to go out of her way to avoid disclosure and open and transparent governance.
The City Council continue to mis-use and abuse its responsibility to readily provide public information on the expenses of the City Council. Previous information has shown the Council continue to doctor reports and alter information at will to avoid accountability. (Missing was over $10,000 of undisclosed expenses directly attributed to Council’s overseas and interstate travel.)
Whilst the Melbourne CEO continues to claim that all expenses are subject to an audit by Ernst and Young the fact remains that the system and published expenses are difficult if not outright impossible to effectively audit./ many recommendations by the auditors and others go undressed. The Council’s Travel register is effectively maintained on an electronic white board and is widely open to abuse.
Recommendations to include a secure sequential id number, cross checks and balances have been ignored by the City Council . The Council’s audit committee meets in secret (contrary to the provisions of the Local Government Act and regulations). Lets not forget last months revelations where the Council was found to have misappropriate millions of dollars in illegal fines.
Clearly there is a need to more open and transparent reporting of detailed auditors
The Council has an obligation to the community and Melbourne ratepayers to account for this information. The refusal of the City Council to readily provide information outside the freedom of information act is an abuse of process and one that the elected City Council has failed to address.
If we do not hear from the Council by the end of this month the City of Melbourne can expect a complaint to the State Ombudsman and Attorney Generals department.
Crazy credit spree
Jen Kelly, city editor
EXTRAVAGANT credit-card spending by Melbourne City Council chiefs has left ratepayers with bills for tenpin bowling, fancy dress costumes and exotic junkets.
Lord Mayor John So, his executives and staff splurged $130,000 with credit cards in a year, including on movie tickets, bike hire and trips to Healesville Sanctuary.
Lavish five-star hotel accommodation in London, New York, San Francisco, Boston and China added tens of thousands of dollars.
A Herald Sun investigation of council credit cards found a bill for $1200 to Richmond’s Exotic Car Rentals for two open-top BMWs in the F1 Grand Prix parade.
Ratepayers paid for fashion festival tickets for staff and an $85 Bicycle Victoria membership for a council officer.
Cr So and staff reimbursed ratepayers for items including groceries and gifts after wrongly using cards.
Statements obtained under Freedom of Information laws show ratepayers paid $802 for staff to go to Kingpin Bowling Lounge for a “team building event”.
The Crown casino venue boasts a bar, DJ music, disco lighting, pool tables and waiter service.
Acting sustainable policy manager Andrew McCulloch paid $188 to hire a tandem bike and a three-seater bike to promote Ride to Work Day.
Another $180 was spent on Melbourne Football Club memorabilia for Chinese leaders after they were made honorary members.
Meeting rooms were hired at top hotels including the Westin and Stamford Plaza, despite free rooms at Melbourne Town Hall. Last year deputy Lord Mayor Gary Singer demanded one meeting room be converted into an office for him.
The total bill for the council’s 58 credit cards was $132,056.64 for the 12 months to November 2005.
Anthony van der Craats, who runs a website that seeks to hold the council to account, said Town Hall spending on bureaucratic expenses was out of control.
“The time has come to provide good governance and to put an end to the misuse and abuse of council funds,” he said.
Southbank Residents Group president Joe Bagnara said $130,000 was exorbitant.
“It seems they have no conscience when it comes to spending ratepayers’ money on spurious things,” he said.
“If I were the CEO I wouldn’t allow people to go out tenpin bowling. If they want to do that, they can do it in their own time and pay for it.”
CEO David Pitchford’s eight interstate and overseas trips last year included a $13,700 stay in Britain, separate documents show.
He used his credit card to buy a $57 book from London’s Freud Museum, formerly the home of Sigmund Freud.
A trip to China in September, including a three-night $1300 stay at the five-star Grand Hotel Beijing, a former palace overlooking the Forbidden City, cost another $12,400.
Ratepayers also spent $760 to send council staff to a lecture on English, especially punctuation and grammar, in 2004.
Staff paid $231 last year to hire a rooster costume from Madgear in Balwyn to promote Chinese New Year and the Year of the Rooster.
A manager paid almost $100 for Village movie tickets as excellence awards for staff. And $319 of Hoyts tickets were given as prizes to schoolchildren in a road safety competition.
Ratepayers spent almost $400,000 in 12 months, partly on credit cards, on trips.
In 2004, a staff member bought $290 in gifts for the Lord Mayor of St Louis in Mauritius at the Kirra Gallery.
Staff spent $352 on admission fees to Healesville Sanctuary for VIPs from overseas on two days in late 2004.
Executives passed on even small expenses.
Business Melbourne manager Peter Chaffey swiped his card for a $7 parking fee.
Sustainable policy manager Mark Woodland reimbursed the council after he wrongly used a credit card last year to pay for $51 of groceries at Apollo Bay IGA and $79 for personal items in Port Campbell.
Cr So reimbursed $9.43 three months after charging a refreshment to his credit card at the Hong Kong Hotel. Other councillors do not have credit cards.
Mr Pitchford said auditors Ernst and Young found the use of the cards was best-practice.
“Use of purchase cards at the City of Melbourne is subject to rigorous control,” he said.
“All overseas travel by staff is approved by the chief executive . . . Travel is only to be undertaken where it delivers direct benefit to the city.”