WODONGA'S SEOUL SISTERS: Trip a must for city, mayor argues

Wodonga mayor Rodney Wangman.
Wodonga mayor Rodney Wangman.

WODONGA councillors have approved Cr Lisa Mahood and chief executive Patience Harrington jetting off to South Korea on a business class trip.

Ratepayers will foot the $15,000 bill.

Approval comes at a time when the council must find $670,000 extra for the Elgin Street realignment, taking its cost to almost $5 million.

Mayor Rodney Wangman said attending the Social Enterprise World Forum in Seoul on October 14 to 16 would be “for the betterment of the community”.

Cr Wangman said the trip was “a response to the changing concerns and issues in our society” and would help the council prepare for the future. 

“We do need to look at other locations and talk with people who are world leaders in these areas.”

Only Cr Mark Byatt voted against the trip when it was approved on Monday.

Cr Mahood was absent from the meeting.

Albury Council has declined an invitation to Seoul.

Wodonga Council’s budget estimates for the Seoul trip include $2000 on hotels; $1400 for conference fees; $1500 for food; and $10,000 for airfares — indicating the pair will be flying business class.

Cr Wangman said these flights were “absolutely necessary”.

“We don’t expect them to have two to three days to prepare and recover ... they fly in, conduct the business and fly out,” he said.

The costs come from $20,000 set aside for staff for professional development each year, while council policy dictates business-class tickets can be bought for flights over six hours.

“Ratepayers can be assured that all the things we do as councils are to the betterment of our community,” Cr Wangman said.

Cr Wangman said discussions around social issues such as youth unemployment, family breakdown and changing social discourses affected Wodonga residents every day.

Each year the council had to step in more and more to help in these areas, citing giving a grant to the Uniting Church for emergency meals.

The Seoul forum includes two days of talks on youth issues, and three days on social enterprise and trading.

The Wodonga pair will network with philanthropists, experts and community leaders from all over the world.

Cr Michael Fraser spoke in favour of the trip, saying the cost represented 0.05 per cent of the council’s total budget.

“It’s a significant chunk, but it’s not a big chunk,” he said.

Cr Anna Speedie said it was “beholden” on councillors and staff to make sure they were as educated as possible.

Wodonga invited Albury Council to join it.