Vandervis walks out of hearing

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vandervis
A public hearing on new bus shelters planned for Dunedin turned into a political spat yesterday when committee member Cr Lee Vandervis criticised the process and then quit the meeting in protest.

The walkout occurred near the beginning of yesterday's meeting of the Dunedin City Council hearings committee, which was to hear from submitters who opposed plans for new glass bus shelters around the city.

It was believed to be the first time a councillor had withdrawn in such a manner, with previous withdrawals brought on by sickness or similar circumstances, committee chairman Cr Colin Weatherall said later.

Cr Vandervis - one of three committee members - began the session by grilling lawyer Michael Garbett about legal advice given to the committee that suggested it should consider only a narrow range of public concerns relating to impeded access.

Cr Vandervis was worried that precluded many of the other issues being raised by submitters, such as vandalism of the shelters, despite assurances from Cr Weatherall it did not.

Cr Vandervis also claimed the hearing's outcome had been "predetermined" because the contract to build shelters had already been let, and consultation had occurred at a politically convenient time, just before Christmas, when many people were unable to respond.

Cr Weatherall cautioned him against such suggestions, but Cr Vandervis responded by requesting an adjournment.

He then retreated to a back room with Cr Weatherall and fellow committee member Cr Andrew Noone, followed by council governance manager Sandy Graham and Mr Garbett.

The group emerged 15 minutes later and Cr Vandervis announced he would "respectfully withdraw" from the rest of the two-day hearing and deliberations that followed.

"I'm uncomfortable with continuing, given the nature of the pre-Christmas submission process, which invites broad submissions but allows the committee to decide only on narrow access considerations," he said, before packing his papers and leaving the room.

Yesterday's three-strong panel was selected by Cr Weatherall from the eight councillors on the council's wider hearings committee.

Cr Vandervis receiving $68 an hour as a hearings fee, but only for time served, Ms Graham confirmed.

Cr Vandervis remained available to sit on future hearings committees, but Cr Weatherall would not comment when asked what impact Cr Vandervis' behaviour could have on future roles.

Cr Vandervis was also reluctant to comment when contacted, saying to do so "might prejudice" the hearing still under way.

However, he reiterated his claim legal advice from Mr Garbett had to be accepted, despite Cr Weatherall's assurances the advice was only one view for the committee to consider.

His withdrawal meant Cr Vandervis missed submissions from property owners including Margaret and Ernest Diack, who objected to a shelter being added to an existing bus stop outside their Forbury Rd home.

The elderly couple, speaking through lawyer Devon Miller, argued it would reduce the value of their home, which featured an impressive fuchsia garden, and encourage more people to congregate outside, raising safety concerns when reversing from their driveway.

The council plans to build about 120 of the glass bus shelters at existing unsheltered bus stops over the next year on behalf of the Otago Regional Council, which is responsible for the city's bus services.

The new design would improve visibility and safety for passengers and drivers and discourage "undesirable" behaviour, council transportation operations programme engineer Michael Harrison said.

Objections from 48 property owners had been received, but plans for five shelters had since been withdrawn and another 12 complaints resolved, leaving 31 objections for the committee to consider.

The hearing concludes today, with deliberations and site visits to follow.



Why a councillor might reasonably withdraw

If, as a councillor, you don't believe the process is correct, by continuing to participate in the meeting you arguably endorse the process, which may be against your conscience.

If you leave, you may very well be accused of throwing a childish tantrum and refusing to play (but note that it certainly doesn't sound as if this is what happened here).

If you explain why you left, you risk bringing into question the validity of the outcome of the meeting (which is not the same thing as the process.) All very tricky for those who care enough that things should be done correctly.

However, the public will never know the full story in this particular case.


Making a point

Silentlord: He didn't walk out because he didn't want to do the work.  He obviously did it to make the point (in this article in the paper, for example) that the council process was a sham. They were asked to consider public input on new bus shelters. Citizens had prepared submissions to the council but in fact the council had already gone ahead and let the contract to build the shelters.

Would you rather that he sat there for two days and pretended to listen to submissions knowing they were pointless? Instead he took a stand, representing the rights of the citizens who elected him to be meaningfully heard.

It's about time the council started taking a bit of time doing things - wait for the citizens to have their say, and actually listen to them before you make up your minds.


More spending?

Sorry, but quite apart from the issue with Cr Vandervis, may I suggest that "new glass bus shelters" are probably one of those wee things we might have to do without for a while? You know, with the city being NZ's most indebted and all that?

Wonder what other delightful schemes are being planned - a monorail connecting Mosgiel and Dunedin? A 100ft bronze statue in the Upper Harbour of Michael Guest? I know, how about we buy the ORFU?


Well, resign then...

I'm sorry, but he applied for, and got, this job.  The Dunedin citizens elected him to do the job.  He can't 'quit the meeting in protest' like this.

I work for a living, which (unfortunately) includes attending a lot of meetings.  If I were to 'quit the meeting in protest', I may get away with it, but I'm certain I'd be spoken to.

And anyway, what does quitting do...?  I'd say this is an example of 'You're either part of the solution or part of the problem'

Suck it up...

Cart before the horse?

Seems to me the DCC is putting the cart before the horse. Surely it need to get the ORC, buses, timetabling and reasonable fares in order first. From my experience, buses/public transport in Dunedin are a joke.

Submissions to the council

Interesting point about the lawyer's advice to the committee, presumably to avoid a (very unlikely?) possibility that the council might be sued.

However, the Local Govt Act requires that all submissions to the  council be 'taken into account' and this would seem to take precedence over any other consideration.

Just because the DCC might have dealt with public submissions extremely poorly in the past doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with the actual process. Rather than ratepayers and residents giving up writing them, it would be better to encourage the DCC to manage them well.

I share Cr Vandervis's attitude to charade

Cr Vandervis is not the only one fed up with the submissions process.  In the past I put considerable effort into writing submissions and then presenting them, just like thousands of others.  Previously all councillors have  remained present in body while we made the input that council had invited.  But what is the outcome?  Had the voice of the people been heard one thing is certain, we would not be the most indebted ratepayers in NZ.  It's a charade, minds have been made up and the most that is ever changed as a result of this phony consultation is a few details.  The more important or expensive the matter under discussion the surer it is that ratepayers input is a waste of time.

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