Conduct cases costing ratepayers

Lee Vandervis. PHOTOS: ODT FILES
Lee Vandervis. PHOTOS: ODT FILES
More than $55,000 of ratepayers’ money has been spent investigating Dunedin City Council code of conduct complaints since the 2019 election.

One case ($25,841) was when Cr Lee Vandervis was found to have behaved in an intimidating way when he confronted deputy mayor Christine Garey after a council meeting in July last year.

Another case ($14,148) related to a parking dispute involving Cr Vandervis before the 2019 election, but the matter was contested in court last year.

A third complaint ($12,003) stemmed from Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins disclosing information from a November 2019 meeting to former chief executive Sue Bidrose when he should not have.

The three cases have totalled $51,992 in costs to the council so far.

The information was contained in a response to an Official Information Act request by The New Zealand Herald.

An August 2020 complaint by Cr Jules Radich against Cr David Benson-Pope cost $1202, but it was found to be without substance.

Two more complaints about online communication cost a combined $3668 but were found to be non-material.

The Dunedin council’s cost for such matters was the highest in New Zealand.

Mayor Aaron Hawkins
Mayor Aaron Hawkins
Sue Bidrose
Sue Bidrose

Mr Hawkins said the tally was the price of justice.

"We can't ignore people's concerns ... the cost of justice isn't really something that you can argue against," Mr Hawkins said.

He did not think Dunedin was the worst-behaved council and said members were generally collegial and constructive.

Cr Vandervis said staff decisions to investigate frivolous complaints were a waste of public money, and there was further wastage.

"Ratepayers should be irritated by the annual millions that the DCC spends unnecessarily on consultants and external lawyers when they have their own in-house lawyers and staff," Cr Vandervis said.

Code of conduct complaints were sometimes used to try to publicly smear councillors who were inclined to ask questions, he said.

Concerning the incident involving the deputy mayor, Cr Vandervis was found to have waved a finger in her face and shouted at her.

Christine Garey
Christine Garey

The cost of the parking dispute may yet rise, and judicial review proceedings at the end of last year were not included in the council’s tally.

Cr Vandervis was found in breach of the code of conduct but sought a judicial review in the High Court.

He lost the case but has yet to decide whether to appeal.

Determining legal costs would come after a decision about an appeal.

Mr Hawkins apologised to councillors after he breached the rules.

He had shared confidential information from a staff-excluded meeting assessing Dr Bidrose’s performance.

Cr Vandervis made the complaint on that occasion.

Apparently referring to the complaints about online communication, Cr Vandervis said the council paid an investigator to look into two clearly frivolous complaints of what he called "councillor Facebook trolling" statements last year.

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