When 10 Canterbury Bankstown councilors and four council staff members went on an immersion tour of the United States, the schedule was, as Mayor Khal Asfour put it at the time, “hectic.” They took Boston, New York and Toronto “all in one week.”
And they were so committed to their shared ambition to make Sydney’s south-west local government area a “smart city”, the council’s press release said that would be “paying your travel expenses”. However, the Local Government Office found that this was not entirely accurate.
The 2019 US “immersion tour” prompted a complaint to the office, which found that “council members only paid some travel costs,” says a confidential OLG document written shortly after the trip and seen by the Herald. “Other costs were paid by the council.”
Records of travel expenses, obtained by the Herald, show the trip cost taxpayers nearly $146,000, including more than $105,000 for lodging, more than $15,000 for meals, and nearly $24,000 for ground transportation. His personal share was $2,500 for international rates.
The OLG encouraged the council to consider clarifying the press release.
He also said the council “does not appear to have fully complied” with a clause in its own spending policy, which requires a report including itemized costs to be submitted to the council in advance of the trip.
expenses were included in a report after the tripwhich described visits to Harvard, Columbia and Pennsylvania Universities, the Brooklyn Navy Yards and senior council officials.
A council spokeswoman said: “The council has been open and transparent with the Local Government Office and provided them with all details relating to the trip. In a private and confidential letter sent to the council, the time spent in providing them with the requested information was appreciated and the matter was closed.
Asfour, who has been endorsed as a Labor upper house candidate in state elections, also faces allegations that he breached spending policy by claiming too much for his MBA before council raised the career development allowance to a level That would cover the cost.