Former councillor Neville Padgett has been told to pay back some of his expenses after he claimed £26,000 in just over two years.
Mr Padgett resigned from his post last month citing health reasons after being re-elected in May in a landslide victory.
It was previously reported how Mr Padgett claimed £11,000 2012/13 – almost a third of the £34,000 total claimed by all 75 councillors. He claimed another £15,000 the following year on top of his £8,369 basic allowance.
The expenses included food, refreshments, and mileage claims. He justified the latter by claiming to spend one day a week driving around every street in his ward to check on litter problems.
It’s understood that Mr Padgett attended a meeting held behind closed doors, of the council’s standards board, shortly before his resignation.
Council bosses have always insisted councillor’s claims are regularly monitored and reviewed “in line with national guidelines”.
But at a full council meeting last week, leader Paul Watson admitted the authority has been investigating Mr Padgett.
He said: “It is a delicate operation to decide what we think he should pay back. We have been looking at it for some time now.”
Tory opposition leader Lee Martin had tabled a question, asking if and how much Mr Padgett will be asked to repay, what category of claims and what time periods these relate to.
Coun Watson said: “Yes, Mr Padgett has been requested to repay an amount of money in respect of his previous expenses.
“The relevant information regarding the amount that is required to be repaid, the nature of these expenses and the period to which they relate will be provided in a report for publication at a future date.”
Back in March, Coun Watson said there was no question as to the legitimacy of Mr Padgett’s expense claims.
“At the end of the day, there are a lot of other people on the council who don’t claim their full allowances, so rather than concentrating on someone who seemingly claim what he is entitled to, look at the councillors who don’t put expenses in and pay out of their own pockets,” he said at the time.
But Coun Martin tackled Coun Watson about his earlier statement, asking: “Does the leader now regret telling the press that he was only claiming what he was entitled to.
“Does he regret making that claim when this is more than 1,200 employees of this council earned in that year? Does he regret that now ex-councillor Padgett has been told to repay the money, will he apologise to the city for not keeping a closer watch on him?”
Coun Watson hit back saying: “I don’t regret what I said, my comments were made in good faith at the time under the circumstances.
“I don’t apologise if anyone in here is making a less than honest claim. Padgett may have transgressed, we don’t know whether he has crossed the boundaries, that’s what the process is all about. I believed that he was claiming what he was entitled to. If I thought he hadn’t I wouldn’t have said so.”
A by-election to replace Mr Padgett in the Washington East ward will be held on December 11. Those standing are Alistair Baxter (Ukip), Hilary Johnson (Conservative), Tony Murphy (Green Party), Stephen O’Brien (LibDem), Tony Taylor (Labour).
Source – Sunderland Echo, 01 Dec 2014