Melton council and mayor Sophie Ramsey have spent $20,000 of ratepayer money on a two-hour high tea event to celebrate International Women’s Day.

The extravagant invite-only event, which cost about $2500 every 15 minutes last Friday afternoon, only came to public attention at last week’s council meeting when Watts ward Cr Lara Carli questioned Cr Ramsey and council officers about the purpose and price of the event. She asked for a detailed report to be presented at the next council meeting.

Requests for funding the $20,000 event were not brought before a public council meeting, prompting questions about transparency.

“I’m all for celebrating the great work that the women of the City of Melton do – that was not my concern at all,” Cr Carli said.

“My main concern is the amount of money that would be spent on this event. It hasn’t been budgeted for and residents weren’t made aware.

“When we’re spending ratepayers money in this way, we should be transparent about it and it should go through an ordinary meeting.”

Cr Carli, along with fellow female councillors Kathy Majdlik and Melissa De Santis, did not attend the event.

It’s the second time an event of this scale has been organised by Melton council for IWD, with the first held two years ago, again at the request of then-mayor Cr Ramsey.

Last year’s IWD celebrations included the Melton Women Making It Happen campaign and a Walk With Her event that encouraged the public to show their support for a safer and respectful community.

Council’s legal and governance manager Christine Denyer said The Women of Melton High Tea, held at The Willows, had not been budgeted for and will be funded from the overall events budget allocated for the 2016-17 financial year.

The council would not answer Star Weekly’s questions about why the event was not put to a vote at a council meeting, how the sum could be justified on a two-hour event, or how many guests were City of Melton residents. Ms Denyer said a report about the event would be presented at next month’s council meeting.

“Women have been invited from all sectors of the municipal community, including commercial and not-for-profit,” Ms Denyer said. “In addition, all secondary schools in the municipality were invited to nominate two female representatives to attend the event with a chaperone. “It is hoped that the event will provide mentoring and inspiration to those future female leaders of the community, as well as recognition for those already providing valuable service.”

When Star Weekly asked Cr Ramsey about the $20,000 price tag, she declined to answer questions from the media “until a report was presented at a council meeting”.

In a statement, she said the high tea was a “rare opportunity, a deliberate and civic celebration” of female leaders from the municipality.

“In a year which has been incredibly challenging to women globally, where advancements for women appear to have been eroded, where the achievements of women have been marginalised, council is determined to stand strong for the principle of gender equity, to personify the theme of International Women’s Day and ‘be bold for change’,” it read.