Cull, Vandervis censured over feud

Dave Cull.
Dave Cull.
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 yesterday.

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 was referring.

Cr Vandervis said the comments were ''certainly offensive'' to him and to his supporters. He sought an ''appropriate'' apology.

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 Peart.

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 illegal.

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 unreliable.

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 promptly.

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 community.''

Cr Vandervis afterwards said he was sorry it had taken so long, but did not know what he could have done to make it shorter.

Mr Cull said he would prepare the apology for Monday.

- debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz

 

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