‘Master-servant relationship’: Ex-councillor tells ICAC John Sidoti expected loyalty

We’re sorry, this service is currently unavailable. Please try again later.

Advertisement

‘Master-servant relationship’: Ex-councillor tells ICAC John Sidoti expected loyalty

By Lucy Cormack

Drummoyne MP John Sidoti has been accused of fostering a “master-servant” relationship with local Liberal councillors by pressuring them to conduct council business according to his direction.

Former City of Canada Bay councillor Mirjana Cestar on Thursday told the corruption watchdog she felt so compromised by Mr Sidoti that she considered reporting him, but ultimately decided against it.

“I thought the type of behavior that John was exhibiting would ultimately be his own downfall, that he had enough rope to hang himself anyway, so I didn’t really need to contribute to it.”

Drummoyne MP John Sidoti leaving ICAC last week.

Drummoyne MP John Sidoti leaving ICAC last week.Credit:Wolter Peeters

Mr Sidoti is the subject of an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption examining if he misused his position to improperly influence local Liberal councillors for the City of Canada Bay from 2011-2018.

The investigation has largely focused on Mr Sidoti’s sustained lobbying to rezone several blocks in Five Dock where his family owned property, despite multiple independent experts finding it was not in the public interest.

Earlier this week Ms Cestar told the ICAC that, between 2013 and 2017, Mr Sidoti accused Labor Mayor Angelo Tsirekas of manipulating the urban redesign project against Sidoti family properties on Great North Road.

She said Mr Sidoti at times insinuated that her position as a councillor would be under threat if she could not be loyal to the Sidoti agenda.

Mr Sidoti’s electorate office in Five Dock.

Mr Sidoti’s electorate office in Five Dock.Credit:SMH

The commission on Thursday heard Mr Sidoti regularly sent emails prior to council meetings where the project was discussed, including “spoon-feeding” councillors on the motions they should move and how to word them.

Advertisement

“I felt that it was more of a master-servant type of relationship. That there was an expectation that... you’re just the councillors and you basically have to run things the way I want to run things,” she told the ICAC.

Former Liberal Councillor for Canada Bay Mirjana Cestar.

Former Liberal Councillor for Canada Bay Mirjana Cestar.Credit:Facebook

In a December 2016 text message tendered to the ICAC, Ms Cestar asked fellow Liberal councillor Helen McCaffrey to meet after receiving an email from a town planner on behalf of the Sidoti family.

The email had suggested alternative wording and recommendations favourable to the Sidoti family that should be moved at a council meeting the next day.

“The email I received regarding Great North Road are disturbing,” Ms Cestar’s text message said.

Three months later the same town planner, James Matthews of Pacific Planning, sent all Liberal councillors another email ahead of a council meeting where a final rescission motion would be heard.

Loading

“It is my strong planning opinion that the rescission motion is not supported. I encourage you to consider moving the motion in the attached document,” Mr Matthews wrote.

Ms Cestar told the inquiry it was the first time in nine years as a councillor that she had received such a recommendation from a planner.

“I just remember feeling infuriated by it,” she said of the letter, which had only been sent to Liberal councillors.

The former councillor said she first looked at the letter as a suggestion and not a directive, but ultimately conceded it was improper.

Asked why she did not report Mr Sidoti to the commission, Ms Cestar said, in her own mind, she believed “this will pass and it will all blow over.”

Ms Cestar left the council in 2017 after she lost her billing on a council preselection ticket in July of that year.

The ICAC has heard Mr Sidoti allegedly engineered a plan to dislodge Ms Cestar and Ms McCaffrey for not supporting his rezoning campaign.

One of Mr Sidoti’s electorate office staffers, 21-year-old Stephanie Di Pasqua, ultimately landed on the ticket. Ms Cestar said it showed Mr Sidoti was carrying out his threat of replacing councillors he did not want on the ticket.

“It was retribution for not delivering the outcome for the Sidoti properties in Five Dock.”

Three Liberal councillors that voted on the urban redesign project ceased to be councillors after the 2017 election.

Start your day informed

Our Morning Edition newsletter is a curated guide to the most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up to The Sydney Morning Herald’s newsletter here, The Age’s here, Brisbane Timeshere, and WAtoday’s here.

Most Viewed in National

Loading