'Bare-faced lie': Vandervis slams behaviour claims

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vandervis
The Dunedin City Council has been so concerned about a councillor's behaviour over the past eight years that it has been logging  allegations against him to ensure it is seen to take staff safety seriously.

Lee Vandervis is the only councillor on the council's confidential health and safety register. Historical allegations against him include "threatening staff employment security if elected mayor" and "public abuse and denigration of staff, belittling, questioning competence".

Cr Vandervis, this evening, pushed back against the allegations.

"That is absolutely untrue — that is an absolute bare-faced lie. I have never ever said as claimed that I would fire someone when I became mayor. That is absurd — mayors can’t fire people anyway," he said.

"That is just absolute scandalous invention. 

"Pushing back? I reject all and any of these claims as being manufactured rubbish."

He said the "supposed complaints" were in fact an "utter secret fabrication brought out — gathered over many years in secret and brought out — prior to the election in an attempt, a successful attempt as it turns out to smother my name and make it look like I have some kind of problem, which I do not."

He had though taken staff to task over legitimate issues. 

"I don’t expect everybody at the DCC [council] to think that I am the nicest guy on the block, because I have been exposing what all of them have been up to. But I certainly don’t expect the chief executive to keep a secret file, since . . . 2012 . . . of anything, any of the 1000 staff said, that was negative with my name in it, "claiming that it’s an event and then misrepresenting it as a ‘complaint’."

The alleged incidents were part of a summary file kept on the councillor and released this week, after the Ombudsman ruled in favour of the Otago Daily Times and in response to a Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) request made late last year.

The complaints date back to 2012.

The register of 27 recorded incidents was the only one of its kind for an elected member, council chief executive Sue Bidrose said.

She said the council had initially denied the ODT request for information to protect Cr Vandervis’ privacy.

However, chief ombudsman Peter Boshier over-ruled that decision in a June 30 opinion.

"The public interest considerations favouring release of the information outweigh the privacy interests to the extent that a summary of certain information should be released," he said.

The previous chief executive advised Dr Bidrose to set up the file through the council’s human resources department when she held the strategy and development general manager’s role "because it was beginning to be a pattern of behaviour — and we needed to keep a record of how we’d responded to show that we were proactively looking after our staff’s well-being".

"We don’t have a complaints file — this file was set up specifically so that we could prove — should we get prosecuted — we could prove we had taken actions to protect the staff," Dr Bidrose said.

"This file was kept so that we had a record of the actions we were taking in order to reduce the impact of this behaviour on staff — or to try to stop the behaviour".

Cr Vandervis had been informed "this kind of behaviour presents an organizational risk — a risk that a staff member will be emotionally impacted" which could have resulted in a staff member taking the issue up with WorkSafe.

In 2015, Cr Vandervis was temporarily stripped of his voting rights after a formal code of conduct complaint.

In the last triennium, 2016-19, there were 12 complaints against the councillor.

There was at least one complaint since those included in the summary, which only covered the period identified in the official information act request.

"There is a power differential which is repeatedly pointed out [to Cr Vandervis]," Dr Bidrose said. "A councillor — if they’re going to yell and shout and accuse somebody of being inept, staff are not in a position where they can do that back.

"There’s a power differential.

"That is what puts an onus on councillors to abide by the code of conduct that says you are to treat staff with respect."

She said the council did all it could "within the bounds of the law" to try to keep staff safe, but she said there were times when the work environment was "unpleasant".

The register includes allegations that in 2013 Cr Vandervis was bullying in a council meeting.

In 2015, he was said to have shouted and berated a seated staff member "while standing over him".

In 2016, there was a "generic complaint about intimidating staff to point of tears".

He alleged "many staff" were involved in corruption in fraud in 2017, which included a "cover-up by senior staff".

There was alleged "public abuse and denigration of staff" in 2018. 

In 2019, he allegedly "overtalks, swears at and shouts down three women in a meeting".

Cr Vandervis said he "will be discussing all the allegations with my lawyer on Monday". 



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Questioning council competence...sounds fair when a good number are incompetent.

100%correct Fizz,the main incompetent would be the Mayor.

"questioning competence" is exactly what this council needs. Seems like all they can do is accuse others of bullying (Vandervis) and racism (a Southland MP from today's article) when they raise some valid concerns. So weak

Once again, Vandervis is the lone man standing against the mob.

Cr Vandervis, you have my full support to act according to your conscience.

That's it, then. He can be a standover man with impunity. This is the Age of one man knows best.

It's almost as if there was an institutional incentive, approval, for being so affronted as to lodge complaints against Vandervis. One would almost think someone with power had a grudge against him. How absurd. How unlikely. Isn't it! For are they not all honourable men and women.

Did someone photoshop a smile onto his picture, rarer than hens teeth. Speak to his lawyer... Must have him on speed-dial, must have something to hide.

Bully... What a great legacy. Congratulations Lee, doing dunedin proud.

I have always supported Cr Vandervis’ policies but his personal style IMO opinion is fatal. I am surprised ODT did not report on a recent public submission of mine where I urged Mayor Hawkins to uphold Standing Orders and eject any Councillor who argues with the ruling of a Chair of a meeting, the Chair’s ruling being final. Also, Standing Orders say that whenever the Chair of a meeting ( for Council meetings it is the Mayor or, in their absence the Deputy- Mayor ) ,...whenever the Chair stands, all Councillors MUST BE SILENT. Those are the rules and Standing Orders have legal force. It doesn’t matter how good you are at the game - if you continually and persistently break the rules, eventually you won’t be allowed to play.

We have all seen the video of Vandervis ranting at the council front office. Very luck for him that there was not audio. Eventually there will be audio and he will not be able to back out and it all will become clear that he has lied all the way along.

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