Councillors' row over art work escalates

Bill Acklin
Bill Acklin
A row is escalating between two Dunedin city councillors over the controversial Haka Peep Show art work in the Octagon, as tit-for-tat complaints of broken council rules begin to mount.

Cr Bill Acklin yesterday confirmed he would lodge a formal complaint with Mayor Dave Cull, alleging comments by Cr Lee Vandervis about the project breached the council's confidentiality rules.

It would be the third allegation of a breach of council rules directed at Cr Vandervis by another councillor in recent weeks, all of which were still being investigated by Mr Cull, the Otago Daily Times has learned.

Cr Vandervis also filed one complaint alleging Cr Syd Brown had broken rules several months ago, although that was dismissed by Mr Cull, the ODT was told.

Details of the other complaints were confidential, with parties involved declining to comment, including Mr Cull, who yesterday said he needed to remain impartial.

Cr Acklin's latest complaint came after Cr Vandervis on Monday said he had "resigned in disgust" two months ago from the council's art in public places subcommittee, after it was decided to spend $50,000 from the Rugby World Cup marketing budget on the art work.

Cr Acklin, the subcommittee chairman, yesterday labelled Cr Vandervis' behaviour "absolutely disgraceful" and said he "absolutely" intended to lodge a complaint with Mr Cull.

Cr Vandervis had "absolutely no respect" for council rules, people or projects designed to improve the city, and was "doing whatever he can to be destructive and make a mockery" of council projects, Cr Acklin said.

"It's a shame his resignation from [the] art in public places [subcommittee] wasn't a resignation from council."

A review of the council's standing orders was already under way, and Cr Acklin said he wanted harsher punishments allowing councillors to be dismissed for deliberately disclosing confidential information.

The council's standing orders included a code of conduct establishing the expectations of the city's elected representatives, and punish- ments - ranging from requiring an apology to suspension - for breaches.

Cr Acklin said dismissal was not a punishment available to the council at present, "but it should be".

"If anybody on council betrays the trust of council through exposing confidential information deliberately ... then to be quite frank I think it should mean dismissal."

However, Cr Vandervis was dismissive when asked about Cr Acklin's comments, saying he was "trying to keep things under wraps that have no reason to be under wraps".

It was "bad luck for Cr Acklin" rules allowing the dismissal of councillors were not permitted, he said."The rules are the essence of democracy.

"If he doesn't like things to be transparent, maybe he should look for another job," Cr Vandervis said.

The Local Government Act only required councillors to resign if convicted of a crime that carried a possible prison sentence of two years or more.

Mr Cull confirmed standing orders were being reviewed - something that had been planned since the start of the term - but he would be "very surprised" if rules could be changed to allow more dismissals, except following "very serious" offences.

The latest stoush came after Cr Vandervis gate-crashed a meeting in Mr Cull's office earlier this year, prompting Mr Cull to describe his behaviour at the time as "highly unusual" and "unacceptable".

Cr Vandervis yesterday insisted it remained "business as usual" between councillors, despite describing their collegial relations as a "quite pathetic front".

Cr Acklin disagreed, saying relations remained good between all other councillors - except Cr Vandervis.

"Cr Vandervis is standing out like a big sore toe as trying to be some sort of rebel ... If he doesn't get his own way he throws his toys out of the cot."

Mr Cull also questioned Cr Vandervis' approach: "I'm not sure that I can perceive any constructive purpose to some of his apparent behaviour.

"But that's just an observation."



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