Credit card scandal widens to former WCC chief Bruce Anson

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Carol Altmann – The Terrier

Yet another layer has been added to the Warrnambool City Council credit card scandal, and this time it involves former CEO Bruce Anson.

You are not supposed to know this, but Mr Anson and tourism manager David McMahon last year spent $185 on a lunch, paid for by ratepayers via Mr McMahon’s credit card.

The lunch at the Pavilion on Tuesday 9 January was – it appears  – also attended by others, but who was there and why, remains a mystery.

The place was very public, but the public didn’t know that it was paying the bill.

That was kept under wraps. Until now.

The lunch receipt, with bits removed, was included in documents released after nine months and almost $200 in fees via Freedom of Information which has blown open thousands of dollars spent on Mr McMahon’s credit card on meals, coffees and drinks over 18 months.

A reference to former WCC chief CEO Bruce Anson was removed from the receipt for the $185 lunch.

I am starting to wonder if there was anyone within the upper levels of council who didn’t eat or drink with Mr McMahon at some point.

In this case, Mr McMahon wrote on the Pavilion receipt “Lunch with” but the council removed what followed because it was consider “not relevant”.

What I have since learned is that this lunch was with Mr Anson.

That is not relevant? Are you kidding me?

 

When the person at the table is the CEO of the council that is subject to a FOI application to scrutinise credit card expenditure, it is absolutely relevant.

Just ask the Victorian Auditor General who recently wrote an entire report on this very thing and exposed major flaws at Strathbogie Shire Council, which led to the resignation earlier this month of its CEO.

Mr Anson retired from the council in January this year.

Maybe the council FOI officer – who decides these things – thought because Mr Anson was now retired, he should be treated as a private citizen.

Sorry, but that just doesn’t wash.

Mr Anson was still CEO when the lunch happened and he was still CEO when the FOI into the credit card usage was lodged last October.

The big question is: what is there to hide?

What I want to know, as I am sure you do too, is why Mr Anson and Mr McMahon were having a $185 lunch on us, who was there, and did we get value for money in return for a spread including calamari and a grazing board?

(I asked the council these questions yesterday morning and it replied at 5.29pm tonight, not with the answers, but asking for a copy of the receipt I am referring to.)

The only reason I can see for Mr Anson’s details being removed is to avoid these exact questions.

I also want to know why Mr McMahon’s credit card was used to pay for the lunch and not Mr Anson’s? 

This is also important.

As was pointed out by a savvy reader (thankyou, Adrian), in business, the most senior person at the table usually pays the bill. Why?

Because it stops a senior person from hiding their credit card expenditure behind a more junior person.

It also stops potential collusion (ie. you pick up the bill on your credit card and I will sign off on it).

I am not suggesting for one minute that this has happened here, but it exposes – yet again – the way things have operated within the WCC when it came to the use of corporate credit cards.

We have already seen how loose that goose has been with Mayor Tony Herbert and Cr David Owen being caught up in hundreds of dollars worth of breakfasts paid for by Mr McMahon’s card.

And now we have the former CEO himself making at least a cameo appearance in the rot.

This cameo might explain why when I lodged an FOI for Mr Anson’s credit card usage several years ago, only a sprinkling of transactions showed up.

Things were being paid for by other means.

I have to tell you, the council fought tooth and nail to have chunks of information removed from this current credit card FOI before it was released.

One of the reasons given was because some of the bills had been repaid, they believed it no longer mattered: “move along, nothing to see here…”

As we know, Terriers don’t give up that easily.

 

I also fought tooth and nail, all the way to the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner, to have these receipts included.

Why? Because the amounts could have been repaid after I lodged my FOI, to avoid public embarrassment.

And even if they were paid before I lodged my FOI, I believe the public still has a right to know what had gone on and why.

I now know that between $5000 and $6000 was repaid, but, as it stands, the council has still not released the missing receipts.

Under the rules, if I want those missing bits, I have to lodge another FOI.

And if I don’t get them a second time around, I can ask for a review via the commissioner.

It is exhausting and expensive and enough to make you give up.

But we don’t, do we? No, we don’t.

I have two more stories to come.

Again, I want to say that this is the Terrier Tip Jar at work. Every cent you throw into the jar goes toward fighting for transparency and the occasional packet of Panadol. If you would like to be a part of it, you can find the Tip Jar here.

 

11 thoughts on “Credit card scandal widens to former WCC chief Bruce Anson”

  1. When terriers go down rabbit holes chasing rabbits, sometimes they do not resurface for quite a while. Just make sure you don’t get swallowed up in that hole 😊

  2. I cannot believe that the Warrnambool Standard has not written anything about this story, I also very surprised that the Warrnamnbool Ratepayers association has been silent. Is there something Brian Kelson does not want to bring up?

    1. Thanks for the comment Michael. In regard to the first part of your comment, neither can I. On the second part, the W’bool Ratepayers Association has been sharing each of the stories I have written on their Facebook page and Brian Kelson also spoke on ABC Regional Drive last Friday where he was far from silent, I have to tell you! In fact, he made me look subdued by comparison!

    2. Hi Michael, perhaps you should check out my Facebook page,, Warrnambool Rate payer association page. I have given numerous interviews on Win Tv, ABC, and 3yb. I have been in constant contact wit RPV and numerous email to the Government. Hope this helps clears your concerns. Love to see you join the Warrnambool Ratepayers Association.
      Brian

  3. Please don’t shoot the indians for lack of supervision by the chief. Overspending is not a crime unless it is fraudulent.

    1. Ian I agree. There is nothing wrong with using credit cards. It’s the why that needs to be answered. If “value” for the council/ratepayer is derived then there is no issue. Similarly, if Mr McMahon used his card in a way that was condoned by the organisation then that’s not his fault either. The fault rests ultimately with the policy setters (Council/CEO). And this is where the weakness lies. WCC appears to be an organisation that is weak and naive on public accountability. Staff, including the CEO, also fail to realise they are public servants. There duty is not to themselves but to the many stakeholders of which ratepayers are first. There are many recent examples of corporate failures and fraud. These are largely a result of weaknesses in organisational culture. A perverse culture is more detrimental to an organisation’s wellbeing than a flawed strategy. The Councillors are ultimately responsible for this. Think Banking Royal Commission where the Directors of many institutions lost their position as a consequence. So the real question is what is the Council going to to about this? They need to take responsibility, show leadership and be swift in their response. Anything less speak volumes. It will mean they are the problem if they don’t. So Councillors. Again. What are you going to do to stop this from happening?

      (I’m probably wasting my energy here. But here’s hoping the Councillors and CEO are reading all of The Terrier’s reporting and associated comments on this website and social media. At the very least their own reputation is in tatters at the moment.)

      1. Anonymous, I don’t disagree with much that you have said. It largely reflects my own views on this matter. However, I believe that it would be wrong to excuse the holders of these credit cards, in particular, those in management positions. People in those positions should be aware of all of their obligations, legal and ethical, and should not go along to get along. If that is what they are doing, then they are probably not qualified for the positions they hold. I understand that when one is a beneficiary of such dubious benefits it can be very difficult to question the status quo but, in the case of managers at least, we should be hiring people who have the wherewithal to do just that. For those managers who have quietly gone along with this, for whatever reason, I have little sympathy.

    2. Hi Ian, Thanks for your comment. I think the comment in reply to yours sums up where I am coming from with all of this. Councils spend millions each year via credit cards and purchase orders, but it is the accountability that is the issue. This is the the Victorian Auditor General recently completed a report into this issue and this identified multiple weaknesses across the four councils he focussed on.

      1. I looked at the Auditor Generals report https://www.audit.vic.gov.au/report/results-2017-18-audits-local-government?section=33080–appendix-e-financial-sustainability-risk-indicators and Warrnambool has performed in the red (negative) on underlying financial result for ALL of the last 5 years and compares unfavourably to its peer group in most years.
        See Figure E10. Probably due more to excessive staffing costs than abuse of cards although if all 81 cards cost $40,000pa thats over $300,000 in unsupervised expenditure.
        Cheers and best wishes
        Ian

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