$360k error haunts council

An “administrative error” by Bega Valley Shire Council in 2005 resulting in a $360,000 bond being returned to the original developer of the Eden Cove estate continues to dog council.

The bond was to be used for roadworks and particularly the intersection of Government Rd and the Princes Hwy, which Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) has identified as in need of a significant upgrade.

More recent developers have said they should not be expected to pay for the mistake, leaving council with the potential of RMS vetoing further development until the intersection is upgraded.

The issue has come to prominence over the last three council meetings and during the course of heated exchanges between Cr Bain and David Jesson, who was the general manager at the time the error occurred.

At the last two meetings Mr Jesson brought errors in the council minutes to council’s attention. At the meeting on February 21 Cr Bain had to apologise to Mr Jesson over remarks she made at the January 31 meeting, when she accused him of having no confidence in council.

Mr Jesson had called the the minutes “amateurish and appalling” in terms of being a full and accurate record and asked what confidence the community might have in council getting the bigger issues right if council could not get its minutes right.

“I have seen first hand what happens when council does not get its obligations and processes right. On my watch mistakes were made I wasn’t infallible. Staff are only human and sometimes get it wrong,” Mr Jesson said.

Cr Bain attempted to bring up the matter of the Eden Cove bond at the January meeting but was ruled out of order, however was more successful at the February meeting.

“That administrative error happened under the watch of Mr Jesson and I did ask him that day if he would assist this council in finding how $360,000 that was never meant to be given back was given back.  Fortunately Mr Jesson did say ‘yes he would help,’” Cr Bain said following her apology to Mr Jesson. 

An audit by Kothes in 2013 found only two members of council staff were involved with the release of the bonds in December 2005, it was not brought to the attention of councillors at the time, there was no official policy in place for the release of bonds and no appropriate delegations of authority in place or senior management oversight regarding the release of bonds.