Councillors united against Vandervis

Fiery Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis says he does not need help with anger management, but his colleagues have emphatically called on him to acknowledge his problem.

Councillor after councillor decried his behaviour when they debated yesterday whether he breached the Dunedin City Council’s code of conduct by shouting at and pointing his finger in the face of deputy mayor Christine Garey after a meeting on July 28.

Cr Vandervis was alone in justifying his actions.

Councillors presented a few arguments in his favour, but they were united in calling on the combative councillor to control his aggression.

A couple of them suggested he seek professional help.

Formally, Cr Vandervis has been asked to apologise unreservedly, in writing and publicly, for aggressive and intimidating behaviour, or be stripped of two committee roles.

He remained defiant yesterday and seemed to smirk at times, but some of his barbs caused members of the public gallery to gasp in disbelief.

"My problem is not anger management, but council mismanagement and misrepresentation," Cr Vandervis said in a statement after yesterday’s meeting.

His July outburst resulted in Crs Garey, Steve Walker and Marie Laufiso laying formal complaints.

Cr Garey had said she feared Cr Vandervis was so out of control he might strike her.

Cr Walker intervened and stood between them.

Independent investigator Steph Dyhrberg found Cr Vandervis behaved "aggressively, discourteously and in a manner anyone would have found intimidating".

If an acceptable apology is not delivered by Tuesday next week, the council will revoke Cr Vandervis’ membership of the Otago Museum Trust board and district licensing committee.

Cr Garey said in a statement after the meeting no-one - neither staff nor elected members - should feel unsafe or fearful at work.

"Women, in particular, have been targeted for far too long in this way and it has to stop," she said.

"I thank my colleagues for their definitive and emphatic response with the tools they currently have available to them.

"The wider issue is that there are limited tools within local government to deal with such extreme behaviour."

Cr Chris Staynes said he expected abusive or aggressive conduct in the private sector would usually result in a formal written or final warning and, for multiple incidents, dismissal.

Councillors, however, were elected and the organisation had a "limited range" of options.

Cr David Benson-Pope likened Cr Vandervis’ conduct to that of an angry rugby player screaming at a referee.

"The worst thing is you continue to be in denial," Cr Benson-Pope said.

Mayor Aaron Hawkins said Cr Vandervis was a recidivist and his conduct was embarrassing.

In evaluating possible penalties, councillors were "not left with much to choose from".

He compared the councillor’s conduct to that of his young son, who tended to feel aggrieved when called out.

"That’s exactly what you would expect from a 4-year-old, not a 64-year-old, or thereabouts."

Cr Sophie Barker said professional, courteous conduct was needed in the workplace.

"It is completely unacceptable to bail someone up and shout at them."

Cr Carmen Houlahan said she regularly agreed with Cr Vandervis, but she had seen him lose his temper numerous times.

Cr Jules Radich said he was not far from the incident and did not hear screaming and yelling.

He could see how Cr Vandervis would be frustrated about having a point of order "dismissed out of hand", but that did not excuse his subsequent conduct.

Cr Vandervis told councillors he did not recognise the investigator, her report, or the code of conduct process.

"The reason I raised my voice to deputy [mayor] Garey was that she refused to listen to my description of what my point of order actually was and she cut across my initially conversational tone with the false accusation that I was ‘just having a go’."

Cr Vandervis fired a series of barbs at Cr Garey and other elected members. He withdrew a comment about the deputy mayor’s make-up.

He rejected the accusation he pointed his finger in "stabbing motions" at Cr Garey, or that he screamed and yelled.

Cr Vandervis said complaining to Cr Garey verbally was a mistake and he also made a mistake in raising his voice.

"I sincerely apologised for both of these mistakes ... My undertaking in that apology to make all my future non-public complaints in writing should ensure that there is no further opportunity for such unpleasantness."

Councillors had previously labelled this apology weak and pathetic.

- Additional reporting by Emma Perry

grant.miller@odt.co.nz

Comments

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Benson-Pope lecturing anybody on behaviour is certainly an interesting concept.

Did he have pants on during the "hearing"?

Anybody see a tennis ball by chance?

Who paid "Independent investigator Steph Dyhrberg" to carry out this so called "independent investigation"?, "Benson-Pope urged him to take responsibility for his behaviour", that's rich . . . And hawkins "Mr Hawkins said the behaviour of the councillor was embarrassing" no hawkins it is your behaviour that is embarrassing, crying down Vandervis nearly every time he asks a question or raises a point of order yet won't do the same nearly as much to the other councilors and not to mention your failed experiment with the dots which caused you much ridicule on social media.

Anybody who can get under the skin of those bumbling fools on the DCC to s obviously doing their job! Good on you Lee! Go through the motions to appease them and continue with your good work! We need you in fighting form for the next election!

Lee's political opponents seem determined to upend the votes of the people whom selected him to represent them. His opponents seem desperate to shut him down. This disregard for many of Dunedin's voters doesn't seem democratic. Something else afoot?

Yeah, and in their desperation to shut him down they resort to asking him for such an unreasonable and wretchedly impossible thing like issuing an apology. I'm sure there's a human rights violation somewhere in there too. Poor guy, he didn't stand a chance.

I hope he gets the help he needs. He's not a well man and this is reflected in his relationships. Good luck Lee

Boomers out in force here clearly unable to recognise a narcissist who totally refuses to acknowledge his problem. He needs to be gone. His personality is unsuited to the responsible position he is placed in. It's ok to be in the tent and frequently argue from a different perspective, however, he seems unable to argue anything in a reasonable manner so as not to cause offence. Hence he achieves nothing and in a long time on council has achieved zilch. Destructive rather than constructive in everything he says.

Yeah agreed bensonpope needs to be gone especially with his past history at school and at the school camps, can't recognize his behaviour yet has the gall to lecture others.

Is your response to misrepresent comments?

@Alan beck, how have I "misrepresented" the comment?.

The ineffective, no policy (other than banning cars) greens are simply running scared. They have someone who is willing to stand up against their ideas and waste.
The winners out of this - no one. The losers - the ratepayers of Dunedin who are likely to lose the only vocal opponent of waste at council. And the only councilor willing to argue against the actions of DCC staff.

let he who is without sin cast the first stone

I don't think many people would question Lee's right to raise some of the points that he does - it's his manner that is the problem. It shouldn't be tolerated and what a shame there is no mechanism with some teeth to rein him in. His aggression wouldn't be accepted in any other workplace. He's shameless and appears to have no interest in the effect he has on others. An appalling example of civic conduct. The other councillors are completely justified in confronting him about it. He's a huge distraction and thoroughly unpleasant. How many times has he upset people? It's not an exaggeration that his behaviour follows a pattern.

Quoting ODT: ‘ ......or be stripped of two committee roles.’
I don’t think this is accurate but maybe ODT could check. There’s a difference between an elected rep having voting rights (or any role for that matter) on a Council Committee and being the DCC appointment to an external body like a trust or a licensing committee. In the latter case, the appointee is representing the Council and the Council obviously has a responsibility to appoint someone who they are confident will represent the Council professionally. When it comes to Council Committees, Councillors are representing the voters and, although I think that removing Council Committee voting rights is a possible Code of Conduct sanction and was tried under Cull’s mayoralty, this present Council rejected it and quite rightly too IMO as it would arguably disenfranchise the people who voted for Vandervis. In his last speech, Mayor Hawkins refers to this issue. Whether Cr Vandervis apologises or not, he will still have exactly the same speaking and voting rights in Council decision-making as any other elected rep.

We need a new system of local governance. The current is outdated, inefficient and very poor value for money. The inconsistencies and squabbling happening all over the country in different councils both regional and city is proof, as is the poor infrastructure and environmental investments.

What would you suggest?
Seriously, I'm not saying you are wrong, but what else would work - taking into account the very reason why local government exists in the first place (to provide for public facilities/amenities that wouldn't be paid for by the private sector).

It is simple, when a council is disfunctional the local government minister sacks all the councillors and appoints commisioners.
And as the greens can't run this council and have no policies beyond ridding Dunedin and New Zealand of cars then we would all be better off if this happened today.
Maybe in a few weeks when there is a new minister this can be their first action. Mind you if the greens get to a coalition this bunch of bumblers are safe til the next council elections.

I have to say I am thoroughly disgusted at the handling of this affair by both the DCC and this newspaper in allowing this to be live streamed to the public domain. Such actions are a closed door affair. Because no matter who or what has been done or said, the people involved have a right to privacy. To allow public comments to be made, with a have at it approach, appalls me. I am a financial supporter, donating as per your advert below, however I would not have done so if I had known how low journalism would get . This is a matter for the employment courts not the public arena. I do not expect this comment to be published because I am expressing my disgust at the way this has been handled.

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