Angry walkout and no apology

Cr Lee Vandervis leaves yesterday's Dunedin City Council meeting after being asked to make a '...
Cr Lee Vandervis leaves yesterday's Dunedin City Council meeting after being asked to make a ''genuine'' apology for his behaviour. Photo by Peter McIntosh.

Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis has been given 24 hours to offer a ''genuine'' apology for his behaviour or be stripped of his voting rights.

But the outspoken councillor has already vowed not to recognise the ruling, after staging a walkout during a debate over his punishment.

His move came amid acrimonious scenes at yesterday's Dunedin City Council meeting, as Cr Vandervis made his own allegations of illegal behaviour, and members of the public interjected from the gallery.

The departure also left councillors opposed to Cr Vandervis' punishment just one vote short of stopping it - a vote Cr Vandervis could have cast, had he stayed.

Despite that, Cr Vandervis last night defended his decision to quit the meeting, telling the Otago Daily Times he was not prepared to be ''part of [Mr] Cull's corrupt process''.

''I do not recognise today's councillor decision against me, as due process has been abused.''

Mr Cull rejected that, saying the council had ''bent over backwards'' to provide Cr Vandervis with a fair hearing.

''I think it's unfortunate that Cr Vandervis doesn't seem able to attend, or stay, in any of the formal proceedings around these complaints, but then complains that he hasn't had the opportunity to be heard.

''Clearly, he does,'' Mr Cull said.

Yesterday's uproar began when Mr Cull presented Cr Vandervis with a choice - accept a censure and offer a genuine apology, or be censured anyway and lose committee voting rights for the next two months.

The apology would have to be made within 24 hours, acknowledge his behaviour was ''unacceptable'', include a ''genuine expression of remorse'' and not ''any attempt to downplay or explain his actions'', the resolution read.

Instead, an angry Cr Vandervis labelled the offer an ''ambush'' and then left the Council Chamber to phone his lawyer.

He returned minutes later, while the meeting was in recess, and announced he was quitting the debate for good.

Mr Cull said he would not listen to Cr Vandervis until the meeting resumed, but Cr Vandervis shot back: ''Look, your not listening is not news to me, Your Worship.

''You've been not listening for a very long time now.

''I'm telling you I'm leaving the meeting on legal advice, because what you're doing is illegal.''

The exchange followed an investigation by the council's code of conduct committee - independent chairman Prof Stuart Anderson, Crs John Bezett and David Benson-Pope - prompted by three complaints against Cr Vandervis.

The committee concluded Cr Vandervis had misled the council's audit and risk subcommittee by suggesting police were not investigating the full breadth of the Citifleet fraud, even after he had received assurances to the contrary from council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose and police.

He was also found to have engaged in bullying and aggressive behaviour, following angry altercations with the subcommittee's independent chairwoman, Susie Johnstone, and Dr Bidrose.

All three incidents were considered breaches of the council's code of conduct, but Cr Vandervis had refused to fully participate in the investigation and hearings that followed.

He emailed councillors, council staff and media on February 4, apologising ''unreservedly'' to those who thought his run-in with Dr Bidrose was ''too loud or inappropriate'', but that went ''only halfway'', the investigation found.

Mr Cull said last night he had hoped yesterday's request for a ''genuine'' apology would have provided a way forward.

It was ''absolutely'' an olive branch, but there was no requirement to circulate the resolution in advance, he said.

He decided not to because there was ''every possibility it could have been selectively distributed in ways that would have been counterproductive to a good discussion'', Mr Cull said.

While most councillors voted to endorse Mr Cull's resolution, Cr Hilary Calvert argued against it.

She believed Cr Vandervis had already apologised, ''whether acceptable or not'', for his altercations with Dr Bidrose and Mrs Johnstone.

He would not apologise for misleading the subcommittee, as he had continued to believe what he said was true, despite the assurances he had received, Cr Calvert said.

While he would still be allowed to attend meetings, and speak, removing his right to vote would punish those who elected him, she believed.

Councillors voted 11-3 to give Cr Vandervis 24 hours to apologise, or be stripped of voting rights, with only Crs Calvert, Doug Hall and Mike Lord opposing the move.

Cr Vandervis, in a statement handed to media as he left the meeting, said he ''completely rejected'' the claim he misled the subcommittee, and was still yet to see ''hard evidence'' the Citifleet inquiry had been widened.

He also refused to recognise the results of ''loudness'' complaints levelled against him, when ''due process has not been followed''.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

 

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