Vandervis accused of electioneering attack on staff

Lee Vandervis.
Lee Vandervis.
Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis has been accused of electioneering after turning a procedural item at yesterday's Dunedin City Council meeting into an attack on council staff.

Tensions began to rise at the meeting when attention turned to the 2013-14 draft annual plan, which councillors had to approve before it could be released for public consultation.

Instead, Cr Vandervis and told the meeting the draft, as it stood, did not have his ''full confidence''.

That was because of the quality of recent reports by council staff to councillors, as well as the ''diabolical'' handling of the sale of Carisbrook, he said.

He cited the ''enormous'' variation in figures presented to councillors about the sale of Carisbrook as one example of the ''convoluted'' reports that left him with ''an increasing level of distrust''.

''The distrust has been getting worse for more than a year now,'' he said.

''I no longer have the confidence that we are getting accurate information from staff.''

His comments prompted a retort from Cr Syd Brown, who accused Cr Vandervis of electioneering eight months out from voting day.

''It really concerns me that we are obviously in election year and electioneering has started, but it really concerns me that staff and their ability ... is brought into disrepute in debate.

''They are being used as a pawn in someone's electioneering,'' he said.

Instead, Cr Brown praised staff for their work, which was ''of the highest order'', and chided Cr Vandervis for trying to disrupt the council's consultation with its community.

''If you are going to vote against it, therefore you are saying to the community 'we don't want to consult with you'.

''I think the community can then take what they like from the result of that voting pattern,'' Cr Brown said.

Cr Vandervis' comments came after he was banned from talking to council staff in 2011, after giving orders to some - and describing others as ''dogs'' - in a series of angry emails. That ban was lifted only in December last year, more than a year after it was imposed.

There were more terse words yesterday when deputy mayor Chris Staynes proposed a series of amendments tweaking the draft plan before it was released for consultation.

The changes included inserting a summary of key changes, more information about stadium debt and the proposed events attraction fund, and a diagram summarising the financial interaction between Dunedin Venues Management Ltd and Dunedin Venues Ltd, among other changes.

The idea raised the hackles of Crs Fliss Butcher and Bill Acklin, who objected to the volume of last-minute changes. Mayor Dave Cull rejected that, saying the draft was circulated last week and any councillor was free to recommend changes at yesterday's meeting.

Those proposed by Cr Staynes were editorial tweaks, and there was ''nothing untoward or improper about trying to get things right'', Mr Cull said.

Councillors eventually voted to approve the draft plan, including Cr Staynes' amendments, for public consultation, which would begin on March 9 and close at 5pm on April 9.

Right behind you Lee

The more I read about this guy the more I like him!

He's our only real voice in the DCC and they keep trying to shut him down.

Run for Mayor. I will vote for you. 

increasing level of distrust

It seems irresponsible to report that one politician was "electioneering" while the other one was not. To do this implies that the writer has judged one side to be correct and the other to be wrong.

DCC councillors disagree frequently, but seldom is any disagreement put down to "electioneering". Cr Brown's accusation was of negligible importance and doesn't deserve a newspaper headline. 

Cr Vandervis is not be alone in doubting the accuracy of the DCC's financial information.

What was the point again?

Cr Vandervis makes a very valid comment, that he is unhappy about the clarity of information eminating from some staff. He particularly highlighted the case of the Carisbrook sale, and the confusing messages as to the true state of affairs. I personally can commiserate with him on this point, having just recently been 'boondoggled' by Mayor Cull on these vary points.

So what is the result? Informed discussion? No, Cr Brown simply accuses Cr Vandervis of electioneering. A bitter diatribe follows, and that is the end of the subject. Nice one, Cr Brown. Then Cr Staynes makes some suggestion about tweaking  the Draft Plan before releasing it for consultation. What? Does anyone there know how many beans make five?

Cr Brown attacks Cr Vandervis

In my opinion Cr Brown made a clear personal attack on Cr Vandervis rather than responding to the content of his comments. This is in breach of the Council's own Code of Conduct.

If one councillor is permitted to discredit any other councillor's comments as ‘electioneering', there is no reason why they should not all do this and, as a result, end up doing nothing but squabbling rather than deliberating. Only poor chairmanship would have allowed this.

Cr Vandervis did not ‘attack the staff'. He commented on the quality of the information in the reports prepared by the staff. This is part of a councillor's responsibilities and the proper (and only) place to make such statements is publicly during a council meeting. Good decisions can be based only on good, full and consistent information.

The matter was not a ‘procedural item', as Cr Brown and the report claimed. The DCC Standing Orders refer to only two kinds of procedural motion (3.11 procedural motions to terminate or adjourn debate.)

Rather, the draft plan had to be approved by council before it could be opened for consultation. However, approval does not mean ‘rubber stamping': it means exactly what it says: approval. Scrutiny is supposed to precede approval.

[Abridged]

The pot calling the kettle black.....

For some time I've viewed Cr Vandervis as a flip flop strange character, just another of our local body political personalities. But having read today's ODT published accusations by Cr Syd Brown of "electioneering " by Cr Vandervis my view is that the grandstanding by Cr Brown is indeed the stuff of soapbox. The subject turns on a "retort" by Cr Brown, sometimes thinking of the merits or substance of others comments before speaking as a retort is wise. 

Cr Vandervis might have issues with the DCC staff etc but me thinks he generally has got some very good points regarding the previous council's very poor handling of financial stewardship on behalf of the ratepayers of Dunedin.

Just where was Cr Syd Brown in the mix of interest groups making the decisions that have lead to the current situation?

Are the reported Cr Brown comments indeed genuine / based in truth or just some opportunism for his own electioning profile ?  Has a raw nerve been touched ?  Hummm..  

Handy objection

It's jolly handy to have a reason for objecting to something someone says without the need to say where they are incorrect in their facts, observations or conclusions.  An election coming up eventually is a good one.  One observation I make is that Cr Syd Brown is sharply aware that local body elections may be 8 months away but that's not long enough to rely on the voting public's memories fading within that period.  

The conclusion I came to was that it is difficult to think of sound arguments to oppose Cr Vandervis's comments.  Perhaps given more time Cr Brown will come up with something more substantial than the statement that Cr Vandervis is electioneering.  I look forward to hearing it.  All disclosures of fact regarding decisions and process, of both councillors and staff, add to the voters' ability to cast their vote as informed citizens rather than putting their mark beside someone because "I've heard of him, he came to our club's Christmas party and was ever so nice."

what is not said

Nowhere in this report are there specifics about Cr Vandervis' concerns about reports written by council staff, aside from his general comments to do with the so-called sale of Carisbrook.The focus is more on Cr Vandervis- and the tension that emanated from his comments- while the comments, and tone, of Crs Brown, Acklin and Butcher is minimised. Who is really doing the electioneering, ODT? 

Get up em Lee

You're the only councillor with enough balls to get the truth for the over burdened ratepayers. You have my vote already. Vandervis for mayor? Yes indeed

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