The failure of Dunedin's mayor and a city councillor to
resolve a minor conduct breach more quickly did not reflect
well on either of them as city leaders, the men were told
In a telling-off at the end of a hearing called to resolve
the matter, independent commissioner and University of Otago
law professor Nicola Peart told Mayor Dave Cull and Cr Lee
Vandervis they had wasted ratepayer money by letting the
matter run for months.
Cr Vandervis complained on November 7 that a comment Mr Cull
made on national television during the local body election
breached the Dunedin City Council's code of conduct.
He said it breached the provision that said elected members
should conduct their dealings with each other in a way that
focused on issues rather than personalities, and avoided
aggressive, offensive or abusive conduct.
In the interview, Mr Cull had called the records of his
challengers with public office experience ''shonky'', and
their policies ''nutty and extreme''.
He later confirmed Cr Vandervis was one of those to whom he
Cr Vandervis said the comments were ''certainly offensive''
to him and to his supporters. He sought an ''appropriate''
When he realised he could not get that on television, he
sought a written apology in the Otago Daily Times, but
the mayor had declined to do that, Cr Vandervis told Prof
Mediation was entered into, but failed in January after Cr
Vandervis did not accept an apology made in writing by Mr
Cull and reported in the ODT in December.
Prof Peart warned the men at the outset of yesterday's public
hearing not to use it as an opportunity for political
point-scoring or grandstanding.
During the 25-minute hearing Cr Vandervis alleged Mr Cull
knew his December apology would offend and only rankle
further, partially because it referred to the word ''shonky''
as potentially meaning illegal.
But Mr Cull said that he had only made the reference because
Cr Vandervis had pointed out in his original complaint that
illegal was one of the meanings of shonky.
He felt that was the most offensive interpretation of the
word, and wanted to make it clear in his apology that he
never intended his use of it to be interpreted as meaning
He accepted he should not have said it and had breached the
code of conduct by doing so, he said.
''When I'm apologising, I apologise for my actions. I
understand we are not here to decide if I was correct or not;
it's whether I should have used the word and that is what I
have apologised for.''
Cr Vandervis told Prof Peart he accepted Mr Cull had not
meant shonky in the illegal sense.
However, the mayor had still not retracted the ''nutty and
extreme'' comment or dispelled notions arising from other
interpretations of the word shonky, such as dishonest or
After a 10-minute adjournment Prof Peart ruled the use of
''shonky'' had breached the code of conduct.
However, the use of the words nutty and extreme had not, as
they were focused on the issues rather than the person.
She ordered Mr Cull to make an apology, in writing and
approved by her, to Cr Vandervis by Monday.
The apology should be posted on the council's website.
She ended the meeting by observing it was a matter of
''sincere regret'' the complaint had not been resolved more
All in all, the comment, made as it was in the context of an
election campaign, was a minor breach, she said.
''A quick apology from you, Mayor Cull, would have nipped
this in the bud. But both of you have let this run on for
months at the expense of ratepayers.
''The failure of both of you not to resolve it quickly does
not reflect well on you as leaders of the Dunedin
Cr Vandervis afterwards said he was sorry it had taken so
long, but did not know what he could have done to make it
Mr Cull said he would prepare the apology for Monday.