Council staff 'very frugal' with spending

The Central Otago District Council's executive team has spent almost $53,000 on its credit cards over the past two years.

Central Otago District Council:

• Nine credit cards

$52,983 charged by five executive team members in last two years

$5000 limit

$11,368 on accommodation.

$6225 on food and drink

$8604 on flightsB

Each member of the five-strong executive team holds a credit card with a limit of $5000.

The credit-card statements for the five managers were released yesterday under the Official Information Act after the Otago Daily Times requested the details.

Council chief executive Phil Melhopt believed the council managers were "very frugal" with their spending.

"We're all very conscious that it's ratepayers' money that we're in charge of," he said.

Almost half the spending has been on accommodation, food and drink and flights.

The executive team comprises Mr Melhopt, corporate services manager Susan Finlay, assets and contracts manager Murray Washington, planning and environment manager Louise van der Voort and district development manager Anne Pullar.

That group, and tourism manager (marketing) Alison Mason, tourism manager (product development) Michelle Kinney, business development manager Jonathan Gadd and customer service administration manager Christine Gourley, all hold council credit cards.

All have a limit of $5000 with the exception of the card held by Ms Gourley, which is used for corporate travel.

It has a limit of $10,000.

Mr Melhopt approves credit-card transactions for Mr Washington, Ms van der Voort, Ms Pullar and Ms Finlay, while his credit-card transactions are approved by Central Otago Mayor Malcolm Macpherson.

"There's a very strict policy on what council staff can and can't claim on their credit cards, especially for travel and meals.

The upper limit for accommodation is modest, and meals must be reasonably priced," Ms Finlay said.

Mr Melhopt said although the statements outlined the credit-card spending "what people can't see is that we do often put our hands in our own pockets to pay for things that, in the commercial world, you'd claim back".

He took over the chief executive's role from John Cooney in May last year and Ms Finlay started work for the council in August last year, filling the position vacated by Heather Kinsey.

Spending by Mr Cooney and Ms Kinsey is included in the total.

Mr Cooney had travelled to England to study the systems thinking "Vanguard" method of operating the council had adopted, and his accommodation and meals from that visit were included in his credit-card expenses.

Although the statements outlined Ms Pullar had charged about $2000 worth of meals and drinks on her credit card, tourism and development was part of her role and she travelled frequently and engaged with a lot of outside suppliers and tourism contacts, Mr Melhopt said.

Often she had "working lunches" and it was reasonable to claim those expenses.

The statements list $280 on Ms Finlay's credit card for a staff Christmas function at Speargrass Inn, at Fruitlands.

That function involved 17 staff, she said.

Conferences for tourism managers, civil defence staff, building and engineering staff, the planning staff and development officers as well as the national local government conference were included in the council staff's credit-card spending in the past two years.

A dinner for councillors at Speargrass Inn in December cost $1480, while a Christmas dinner for the Cromwell Community Board at the Lazy Dog Wine Bar and cafe the same month cost $1332.

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