Investigation will review Coorong Mayors' credit card use

Photo: Auditor-General's Department.
Photo: Auditor-General's Department.

Former Mayor Neville Jaensch believes he will be cleared by an investigation into his financial relationship - and that of his successor, Paul Simmons - with the Coorong council.

Councillors unanimously voted in favour of the inquiry at their March meeting, hoping to put an end to the rifts and personality clashes that have divided the council in recent years.

Cr Jaensch was not present for the vote.

Chief executive officer Bridget Mather had recommended against the investigation, urging councillors to be patient.

The council had already taken away two staff members' credit cards since a recent review by the Auditor-General, she said in a report.

The number of cards issued to staff would be "significantly" reduced within three months, once a second, independent review was completed; and spending on gifts, food and alcohol would also be reviewed.

Investigating the mayor's office would take a staff member away from other duties on a full-time basis, she said, something the understaffed council could not afford.

"There is no ability to perform this motion ... without significant impact on the core functions of council and, ultimately, the provision of timely customer service to our ratepayers and visitors," she said.

But Cr Lisa Rowntree insisted the relationship between the mayor and council was worth looking into.

Council staffers all had superiors to keep an eye on their spending, she argued; the mayor did not.

"It might take a bit of time, but (the investigation) needs to be done in order to move forward on a solid base," she said.

"There's a desire from all of us to move forward.

"We haven't lost sight of why we were elected in the first place: there were a lot of upset ratepayers in our district, which got most of us elected."

Cr Jaensch said he would not resist the investigation, despite believing Cr Rowntree and the other Team for Change councillors were "gunning for me".

"I'm more than comfortable with where I sit," he said.

"I don't have any significant case to answer for.

"I believe I was well within the guidelines of the day."

Cr Simmons played down the development, saying it would be a "pretty standard ... reconciliation of expenses".

Earlier in March, the Auditor-General had found Coorong council staff had misused thousands of dollars' worth of ratepayers' money using credit cards between 2016 and 2018.

He found the council should not have issued a mayoral credit card, and that it would have been better for Cr Jaensch to purchase travel and food through other means; but did not make any finding about whether his spending was appropriate.

That matter was referred to the council's own audit committee, which has not met since.