Boards angered by 'insulting' remarks

Keith McFadyen
Keith McFadyen
Angry and upset community board members are demanding an apology from Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis, after he suggested their boards were a waste of money and should be axed.

Several community board members have contacted Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull to voice their displeasure at Cr Vandervis' comments, published in an Otago Daily Times opinion piece this week.

Saddle Hill community board members were also expected to pass a resolution at their meeting next week, calling on Cr Vandervis to apologise, board chairman Keith McFadyen confirmed yesterday.

Their anger came after Cr Vandervis described board meetings as a "charade", saying members were distributing funding without scrutiny and generating paperwork he used to "light my log-burner".

Cr Vandervis criticised the $342,000 spent each year paying board members, saying the boards were "job-creation schemes" for members who remained anonymous in their communities, and some chairmen were "seat-warmers".

Otago Peninsula Community Board chairman John Bellamy yesterday said Cr Vandervis' comments were "quite insulting" and showed "ignorance of the highest degree".

Mr Bellamy took particular exception to any suggestion the minutes of board meetings were useful only for burning, saying they reflected community concerns passed on to boards and then the council.

"That's not just insulting to me and my board. That's insulting to every ratepayer in the city ...

"He was giving the bird to the ratepayers of this city, because it's their concerns that we're forwarding, not ours.

"It's a very, very careless attitude for a man in his position to be displaying, in my opinion."

Mr Cull said questioning the value of community board representation was valid to raise, but debate about their future should be conducted appropriately.

He did not think Cr Vandervis' comments were "productive or positive", but any request for an apology was between board members and Cr Vandervis, Mr Cull said.

Mr McFadyen said Cr Vandervis appeared to have "no idea" how boards operated.

"He's never, ever been to a community board meeting ...

"He'd be better off to do something constructive, rather than negative.

"It would be nice if he had the courage to be able to apologise for what he doesn't know about."

Waikouaiti Coast Community Board chairman Gerard Collings agreed, saying some board members had found his comments "reasonably offensive".

Cr Vandervis had the right to his opinion, "but he shouldn't make comments in relation to other people's efforts for the community when he's not aware of what they're actually doing".

"Quite clearly, as chair of our board, I'm disappointed in the comments. I think they're a slur on a lot of active community board members who do a lot within their community."

Dunedin's six community boards cost the council $342,000 a year. Board chairmen receive $16,400 a year, deputy chairmen $9000 and members $8000.

Each board also controls a $10,000 discretionary fund to distribute to community groups and projects in their areas.

Mr Bellamy said boards also acted as a conduit between local communities and the city council, raising residents' concerns and advocating for larger work, such as improvements to Portobello Rd.

Cr Vandervis' comments showed "absolutely no respect whatsoever" for that role, Mr Bellamy said.

"Community boards are the grassroots cornerstone of our democracy," he said.

"I read [Cr Vandervis' opinion piece] and I thought 'is he getting around with his eyes totally closed and his brain shut?'

"It was insulting all the work of all the members who in my experience work very, very hard for what they do, and for very, very little."

Most board members were community-minded, rather than political, and "sure as hell don't do it for either their own interests or the money", he added.

Cr Vandervis yesterday said he was "delighted" by the response and had no plans to apologise.

"It would be a shame not to get a bite out of at least a couple of the 36 `bored' members on the payroll."



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