STIRLING councillor Bianca Sandri says criticism of her appearance as a witness against her own council in a SAT appeal last year is making a mountain out of a molehill.
An urban planner in her day job, Cr Sandri’s firm had been hired by a church group trying to get approval from Stirling for a place of worship in Balcatta prior to her election to council in October 2017.
In August that year the application was rejected by Stirling’s planners because of a shortfall in parking, so the church decided to appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal.
By the time the appeal was heard in June 2018, Cr Sandri had been voted onto council, but decided to appear as an expert witness for the church.
That decision has been criticised by former Stirling councillor Paul Collins, who said Cr Sandri should have excused herself from appearing as an expert witness.
“SAT appeals are heard ‘de novo,’ meaning from the beginning, so why wouldn’t a sitting councillor stay well away from such appeals,” Mr Collins said.
“There must be rules and serious consequences in local government preventing councillors serving two financial masters at an SAT appeal? If not then there certainly needs to be.”
But Cr Sandri said she’d not been involved with the application as a councillor, declaring a financial interest and leaving the council chamber when the item was reconsidered in February 2018. She said she also “sought approval” from the council’s administration before appearing as a witness at the appeal.
She said she was disappointed to see this resurface more than a year later on council watchblog Stirling Community Matters.
“[It’s] disappointing that it has only been raised with me only now, via a third party,” Cr Sandri said.
“I am always available to discuss concerns with constituents, including representatives of local community groups, and would encourage them to approach me directly in the future so they can be dealt with in an open and fair manner.
“This situation was a unique circumstance. Whilst I was operating within the guidelines and protocols, I don’t foresee me acting as a town planning expert witness in the future against the city.”
Cr Sandri said her town planning background should be seen as a useful resource for the council, but was being used as a point of attack by some.
“This solidifies the reason why people with businesses often do not run for council as it is not worth the disruption and reputational damage,” she said.
by DAVID BELL