Complaint laid against Vandervis

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vandervis
A formal complaint has been laid against Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis, who is accused of showing contempt for Māori.

Cr Vandervis revealed the existence of the complaint himself and posted a copy of it, as well as related material, on his website.

The material showed he objected to marae protocol "compliance requirements", a hui agenda that was "not understandable" by non-Māori speakers and to an expectation he sing waiata.

Cr Vandervis also took issue with Claude Monet’s La Debacle work being accompanied by "irrelevant Māorified text" at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

The Dunedin City Council confirmed yesterday independent investigator Jordan Boyle had been appointed to look into a complaint against Cr Vandervis, laid by Cr Marie Laufiso.

In an email posted on Cr Vandervis’ website, Cr Laufiso said council staff had been harassed and she could not stand by while her colleague subjected them to "persistently racist conduct and imperiously bigoted emails".

"We can no longer let our silence be interpreted as tacit endorsement," Cr Laufiso said.

She raised concerns about what she said was an enduring pattern of behaviour from Cr Vandervis, including mispronouncing the word "Māori".

The council had a forum called Te Pae Māori. By refusing to participate, Cr Vandervis was failing in his duty to be available to listen and respond openly and honestly to community concerns, she said.

Te Pae Māori had refused to accept the apology rationale from Cr Vandervis for meeting non-attendance, Cr Laufiso said.

Mr Boyle will first make a preliminary assessment about whether Cr Vandervis could have breached the council’s code of conduct and if a possible material breach occurred.

If a full investigation is carried out, it will be the fourth sought by the council within a year.

Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich, Cr Carmen Houlahan and Strath Taieri Community Board chairman Barry Williams were all found to have breached the code last year.

Cr Laufiso cited two clauses of the code of conduct, which were about relationships between council members and with the public.

Councillors were required to avoid "aggressive, offensive or abusive conduct, including the use of disrespectful or malicious language", and to "act in a way that upholds the reputation of the local authority".

A key point of disharmony goes back to meetings of Te Pae Māori in July and October and commentary from Cr Vandervis in the lead-up.

"I am not prepared to submit to the sexist, racist and tribal ritual requirements that have been spelled out in order for me to be able to enter ‘safely’ on this [Karitāne] marae," Cr Vandervis said.

He was a high-polling elected representative "of all the people of Dunedin and I am not prepared to be dictated to in an official council meeting by an elite claiming to represent 0.67% of our voting public".

Responding to Cr Bill Acklin, Cr Vandervis said he rejected "your claim that it is ‘only right’ to expect elected representatives to sing".

"I am happy for other councillors to spend our time singing, even though I see it as a waste of time, but I am not prepared to submit to what I consider to be cultural appropriation and being expected to go to Waiata School."

Cr Laufiso said Cr Vandervis had spent years undermining the status of mana whenua and mātāwaka.

Mana whenua are Māori with ancestral links to the area and mātāwaka are those without.

Cr Laufiso said the behaviour of Cr Vandervis fell well short of accepted standards.

"In no other similar organisation would such unprofessional and distasteful behaviour be tolerated for as long as the councillor has been able to conduct himself thus."

She also said Mr Radich had done little to curb the conduct of Cr Vandervis.