Vandervis' access to staff reinstated

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vandervis
Outspoken city councillor Lee Vandervis has been given an early Christmas present - permission to talk to Dunedin City Council staff again.

Cr Vandervis had been banned from talking directly to most staff for more than a year, after giving orders to some - and describing others as ''dogs'' - in a series of angry emails in September last year.

That prompted then-acting chief executive Athol Stephens to instruct council staff receiving phone calls or emails from Cr Vandervis to forward them to their general managers.

The council's customer services agency staff were also told to divert Cr Vandervis' phone calls to staff to general managers.

The ban lasted 15 months, until formally lifted by council chief executive Paul Orders yesterday.

Cr Vandervis said when contacted the move was ''hardly a present'' and ''nothing to be congratulated on''.

''It was an absolutely unwarranted, illegal and unworkable suggestion anyway.''

Mr Orders, in an email to senior managers yesterday, said the decision was a ''matter of principle''.

It followed the decision by councillors earlier this month to abandon a code of conduct complaint by Cr Vandervis against Mayor Dave Cull without resolution, meaning all complaints were now resolved.

A copy of Mr Orders' email was released to the Otago Daily Times following an official information request.

In it, he wrote the councillors' decision to resolve outstanding complaints had ''prompted me to consider the restrictions'' placed on Cr Vandervis.

''As a matter of principle, I have reservations about applying such an open-ended sanction on an elected member.

''I have reflected on this carefully and have taken the decision to rescind the restriction forthwith and I expect that Councillor Vandervis is given access to appropriate professional staff advice on the same basis as that of any other councillor.''

The most inflammatory of Cr Vandervis' emails, on August 16 last year, was sent to Mr Stephens and four senior managers.

In it, Cr Vandervis expressed anger at council parking wardens ticketing vehicles in the central city after heavy snow.

''Staff of the DCC,'' he wrote.

''Get our parking wardens off the streets IMMEDIATELY! NOW!!

''Failure to respond by return with the decision to call the DCC dogs off our hapless motorists WILL RESULT IN AN ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE PUBLIC ESCALATION.''

Cr Vandervis' message - using capital letters, which typically indicated shouting - was followed hours later by an apology to any staff who felt ''personally abused''.

However, days later, Cr Vandervis emailed another staff member questioning the ''dysfunctional'' management of council parking facilities and labelling the council ''a self-serving bureaucratic culture with little specific expertise''.

The emails prompted complaints from Crs Kate Wilson and Syd Brown. Cr Vandervis criticised the ban that followed as ''utterly draconian'' and expressed hope Mr Orders would intervene.

Vandervis email

The initial email was directed at a council manager anyway, and should have been read in the manner it was obviously intended. Not as instruction, but a statement of common sense. It is hard to see therefore what the ban would have achieved as Cr Vandervis directed his criticism at managers in the first place.

Councillors and staff relationship

Jimmy Jones is makes a valid point. Individual councillors or informal groups of councillors are not allowed (or supposed to) instruct staff. Only the CEO (who employs all staff) is supposed to instruct staff in order to keep the council ticking over and to carry out Council resolutions.

However, I think it is okay for councillors to ask staff for advice or information, especially in response to ratepayers' and residents' inquiries.

Maybe this whole area needs a tidy up by DCC with clearer guidelines set. 


Incorrect Hypothermia

You're adding your own spin on to my response and indulging your own anti-council agenda.  I suggest good leadership is not about aggression, confrontation and domination . . . qualities shown in many of the comments so far.  It's about empathy and being able to influence without needing to resort to authority. 

Vandervis may appeal to the anti-council conspiracy theorists with nothing better to do with their time.  But he is not a leader.  He's a bully and DCC have had enough bullies in HR and management, without needing councillors to perpetuate the culture further. [abridged]

Risk downgraded by standards of poor language

"DCC did exactly the right thing [banning Vandervis' direct access to staff] in managing risk" according to Dunner Runner, who has embraced the modern definition of "risk". It used to be related to feasible possibility of danger. Now it includes every minuscule reduction in the amount of cottonwool that cushions people from consequences irrespective of what they have done to cause their own discomfort.

Right thing wrong way as usual

Once again Cr Vandervis did the right thing - in the wrong way.

Comments and suggestions on counterproductive staff actions are fine. Angrily attacking council staff who are just doing what their managers have instructed them to do is not.

However DCC's reaction was idiotic and it's good to see common sense from new CEO Paul Orders in lifting the communication ban.

DCC democracy subverted

I see the motivation for Cr Vandervis' punishment as being petty, small-minded political opportunism. Lee Vandervis' indiscreet emails do, however, highlight a serious ongoing problem whereby a number of councillors think that they are so important that they can give instructions directly to council staff. In doing this they subvert the democratic process of the councillors' collective decision-making as well as the principal that council decisions must be made in public.

Corrupt practices are less likely if decisions are made collectively and transparently. It is common at council meetings and subcommittee meetings for some councillors to give staff instructions without a vote of the whole meeting. This is a failing of the chairmen (gender non-specific) of the meetings as well as the individual councillors.

Vandervis' punishment to have access to the staff only through the general managers seems to me to be a very sensible rule that should apply to all councillors all the time.

Cr Vandervis was right to be concerned about the parking staff's behaviour, but he and the mayor and councillors should never compromise democracy for their own convenience.[abridged]

Mr Parking, abuser of car owners

That lunatic Parking should desist forthwith.


@Calvin Oaten and EJ Kerr

Your tolerance of intimidatory and bullying behaviour is appalling.  DCC did exactly the right thing in managing risk. [abridged]

Elected representatives - democracy

I'm surprised DCC allowed itself to treat a councillor in this way for so long. This in effect runs counter to good governance and democratic process.

If the situation arose from the lunacy of Parking's abuse of car owners caught out by a snow event, and other such lows of staff performance, shouldn't the council staff have been the ones 'sorted'. 

Limiting communication so the staff can cower behind their managers is derisible. The mayor and council cohorts, this seems to suggest, have acted against Cr Vandervis for their political convenience. This will tell against them in October 2013.

Thank you, Paul Orders. [abridged]



Cr Vandervis' ban on talking to staff is just another example of "silliness" which epitomises much of what this council represents.

It should never have happened

Council staff are just big whiney babies that can give out but can't take it.


Guy needs to wind his head in a bit

Having strong convictions is no substitute for being disrespectful...regardless of whether it's staff or the public.

ODT/directory - Local Businesses

CompanyLocationBusiness Type
Deep Stream Contracting LtdMosgielAgriculture
Wilsons Property MaintenanceDunedinHome & Garden Maintenance
Forbury Corner Health CentreDunedinMedical Centres
Road Metals Co Ltd - Crushing and Aggregate Supply SpecialistsOamaruIndustrial Supplies