Ballarat City Council costs to become more transparent with councillor expenses

The Ballarat City Council has voted to post councillor expenses on its website, admitting a need for more transparency to the community.

It comes as councillor Amy Johnson claimed $870 for a councillor development weekend she did not attend.

Cr Johnson booked a ticket to Municipal Association of Victoria Councillor Development Weekend at Novotel Forest Resort in Creswick on July 26-28 last year.

However when questioned by The Courier, Cr Johnson said she did not attend the event because she was required to attend “important local events” on behalf of council.

She said these included the Sovereign Hill president’s dinner on July 26 and North Ballarat Football Club chairman’s lunch on July 27.

Cr Johnson did not receive the money herself, rather the conference fee was paid from the Councillor Expenses budget.

The claim came to light as Ballarat City Council voted last night to make councillors’ expenses more transparent to the public.

Mayor Joshua Morris said councillors unanimously decided to post a summary of expenses on the City of Ballarat website four times a year.

“The policy came up for a review,” he said. “We had a discussion about the best way forward with councillor expenses and ensuring we can be as transparent as we can.

“I believe this is best practice in getting all our expenses put on the public record.”

Cr Morris said that from Monday, the website would list individual councillor spends in different categories, such as travel and accommodation, professional development and conferences and events.

He said there was no single approach to councillors’ work and this was going to be reflected in the expenses.

Deputy mayor Des Hudson said the councillors had nothing to hide and now people could access the information if they wished.

He said the councillors’ roles were not limited to one meeting at the town hall once a fortnight, but they attended a range of meetings and events.

“The majority of people in the community expect councillors are reimbursed for genuine out-of-pocket expenses,” he said.

“If we’re upfront and able to publish that to the community, all of that’s in the spirit of being upfront and open and transparent.

“Because there’s been a number of FOI (Freedom of Information) applications about expenses, the city would like to make a proactive statement.”

Cr Johnson’s conference expense form was given to The Courier by a resident who submitted a Freedom of Information request to the City of Ballarat.

Another form showed Cr Johnson also claimed $290 for the Sovereign Hill president’s dinner she attended instead of the councillor development weekend.

Cr Johnson said: “It was regrettable that I was not able to attend, as I had been looking forward to the event and the programmed sessions and I have asked council officers to request a refund.”

Ballarat's councillors have agreed to make councillor spending more transparent by posting a summary of expenses online four times a year.

Ballarat's councillors have agreed to make councillor spending more transparent by posting a summary of expenses online four times a year.