Questions raised about Coorong councillor's spending

An investigation into his past credit card use is a waste of money, former mayor Neville Jaensch says.

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Coorong Councillor Neville Jaensch has dismissed as “a waste of money” an ongoing investigation into his use of council credit cards during his time as mayor.

At a meeting last week, councillors voted to dig further into Cr Jaensch’s credit card use after a report raised questions about several transactions made during the past six years.

For the most part, the report focused on policy changes the council needed to make to more clearly define when, and how, ratepayers’ money should be spent.

But auditing firm Galpins also found, for example, that on nine occasions Cr Jaensch’s council-issued fuel card had been used to pay for two tanks of fuel at the same time and place.

The 18 transactions came to a total of $954.95.

The investigators found no evidence to suggest Cr Jaensch, pictured above, had refilled a personal vehicle using council funds.

The report also highlighted three “unusual transactions”, worth a total of $267, at a casino in Canberra.

Supporting documentation, such as tax invoices, was not attached; without that, the investigators said, it was hard to say for sure whether the spending had been for business purposes.

‘Shame on you’: councillor calls out critics, trolls

The issue with the Galpins report was that it cost ratepayers more than $16,000.

That was the reason the council’s chief executive officer, Bridget Mather, had tried to convince councillors not to go ahead with it.

Cr Jaensch argued it had been more wasteful than any of his past spending.

“I believe this investigation was done for the sole purpose of shaming, humiliating and attempting to destroy my reputation locally and within the local government sector,” he said at last week’s meeting.

“Unlike others in politics, I was not required to alter documents that are years old in an effort to justify my actions.

“I’ve always worked within the policies and procedures of the day.

“So I ask members: what is the objective of ... spending $16,341 of your funds on another investigation when council was advised that it would be of little or no financial benefit?”

The Coorong district’s ratepayers needed their council to focus on the future, he said, instead of being “addicted” to the past.

His family members also deserved to be free of the “social media trolls” who had hounded them lately.

Report’s instigator not satisfied with its findings

The council had already singled out Cr Jaensch for extra scrutiny following an earlier investigation by the Auditor-General.

That investigation had not made any finding against Cr Jaensch; it had only suggested that purchases he had made on a council credit card should have gone through other channels instead.

The Auditor-General, too, had focused on the council’s inadequate policies.

In a report to councillors, community and corporate director Deb Brokenshire said those policies had since been updated.

Fewer council staff now had access to credit cards, council vehicles would have their odometers checked regularly and the chief executive’s purchases would be reviewed by the council's audit committee.

The mayor no longer had access to a credit card, either.

But Cr Lisa Rowntree, pictured – who had proposed the Galpins investigation – was not satisfied.

She had done some investigating of her own, she said, “to put (the report) into context”.

By her calculations, based on fuel prices at the time and entries in his mayoral diary, she alleged Cr Jaensch could not possibly have needed to spend the amount he did on fuel between 2014 and 2018.

She also asked for more information about a $1000 reimbursement Cr Jaensch had apparently made to the council for phone and/or internet services; inconsistencies between three other repayments; and an arrangement under which septic waste had been dumped on Cr Jaensch’s property.

Ms Mather agreed that there were still questions that needed to be answered, though she doubted any more definitive evidence would come to light.

Cr Tracy Hill questioned whether a continued investigation would cost more than it was worth, and Cr Sharon Bland asked whether Cr Jaensch should first get a chance to respond to the allegations.

But Mayor Paul Simmons urged the council to press on.

“If we’re going to have a report that identifies there may be some financial (irregularities) and we don’t act, we could be liable,” he said.

“So I believe we need to take some action.”

Councillors – minus Cr Jaensch, who was out of the room – ultimately voted unanimously to continue the investigation.

Photos: Peri Strathearn (middle), Coorong District Council.

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