Supreme Court bid about reputation—Vandervis

A Dunedin city councillor who wants to take his own council to the Supreme Court says his reputation was harmed through unprecedented misuse of the council’s code of conduct.

Lee Vandervis was found to be in breach of the code concerning a disagreement in 2019 about parking, but he has argued an investigation into his conduct was flawed and a censure from the council should not be allowed to stand.

The investigation found he had engaged in loud, intimidating and aggressive behaviour towards a staff member.

Cr Vandervis went to the High Court to seek a judicial review, which was declined, and then his attempt to have the council’s decision set aside by the Court of Appeal was unsuccessful.

Now he is seeking leave to take the matter to the Supreme Court.

An application was filed by his legal counsel last week, the Supreme Court confirmed.

Cr Vandervis said the council had legally won in the High Court, but "the position taken is morally indefensible because the council knows I was not given full details of the complaint or a proper opportunity to respond to the complaint before the investigator’s report was provided to the council".

The council’s costs from proceedings so far have been put at more than $100,000.

Cr Vandervis said he was concerned about the amount of money the council had spent on the matter, "but I had to act to protect my reputation and the council could have agreed at any time to undergo a fair process, including providing me with the complaint that would have allowed me to properly defend myself".

A council spokesman said it was aware Cr Vandervis had applied for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The council intended to exercise its right to respond after Cr Vandervis filed written evidence.

The councillor’s challenge to the council’s procedures, in investigating the alleged breach of the code, had been tested in both the High Court and Court of Appeal, the council spokesman said.

"In both cases, our procedures have been upheld by the courts."

A lawyer for Cr Vandervis would have 20 working days to file material making the case for leave to be granted, a court spokesman said.

The council would have 15 working days to respond.

If leave was granted, there might then be a substantive hearing.

The incident at the heart of the case took place on September 13, 2019, after Cr Vandervis received a $12 parking ticket, unaware he had parked in a 30-minute zone.

The customer service staff member who dealt with him emailed then council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose the next day to make a complaint over his conduct.

That resulted in David Benham being brought in to independently investigate.

He decided the complaint warranted a full inquiry and he gave his results to the council after interviewing relevant parties.

Cr Vandervis argued the complaint made by the council staff member was invalid because only the chief executive could decide to complain under the code of conduct.

The Court of Appeal did not agree.

The Supreme Court is the only legal avenue left for Cr Vandervis.

The council previously confirmed a third party had paid the $12 ticket.



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