Vandervis ruled in breach, on the mat

Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis. Photo: File
Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis. Photo: File
Dunedin's deputy mayor feared she might be hit by a councillor who pointed his finger at her in "stabbing movements" and who grew "increasingly red in the face as he appeared to become more enraged".

Christine Garey said she was shocked the incident happened at her place of work and she was shaken by the experience.

She also said she stood her ground in the face of what she described as bullying.

The councillor at the centre of the controversy, Lee Vandervis, who has a history of volatile behaviour, could be asked to resign from the Dunedin City Council.

Councillors will meet on Tuesday to decide what to do after independent investigator and lawyer Steph Dyhrberg found Cr Vandervis breached the council’s code of conduct and his behaviour was abusive.

"The behaviour was highly unprofessional and threatening and affected Cr Garey’s perception of her safety in her working environment," Ms Dyhrberg said.

"It is likely to bring Cr Vandervis and the council into disrepute."

Cr Vandervis will have a chance to defend himself on Tuesday.

If councillors agree he breached the code, penalties available to them include suspension from committees, removal of council-funded privileges, a vote of no confidence or "inviting" him to consider resigning.

The incident arose after Cr Garey ruled against Cr Vandervis on a point of order at a council meeting on July 28. He confronted her afterwards.

Cr Steve Walker stepped in to protect Cr Garey, the investigation noted.

"I felt as if Cr Vandervis was going to hit me, he seemed so out of control," Cr Garey said in a statement yesterday.

She recalled the incident began with Cr Vandervis shouting, and he was yelling by the end of it.

He jabbed his finger at her, was agitated and grew red in the face as he appeared to become more enraged, she said.

Crs Garey, Walker and Marie Laufiso made formal complaints the day after the meeting.

Cr Vandervis issued an apology that day for "loudness".

He said he had not intended to make a scene and "I should not have let it escalate".

In future, he would make all complaints in writing, Cr Vandervis said.

Cr Vandervis objected to the appointment of Ms Dyhrberg, alleging bias concerning a previous code of conduct process in which she found in his favour but did not rule he was owed an apology.

He declined to participate in the latest investigation.

He issued a brief statement yesterday, saying the action against him was designed to "smother my initial complaints" about council leaders’ lack of proper process.

"Calling out people who are not doing their job, including the ODT ... is the long-evident pattern of my behaviour in the public interest."

Both Crs Garey and Laufiso referred to previous conduct from Cr Vandervis.

Cr Laufiso said he stood over a female staff member last year, spoke with his face close to hers and pointed a finger aggressively in her face.

In her complaint, Cr Garey said Cr Vandervis was "extremely angry, aggressive, intimidating and threatening throughout".

"I am extremely concerned that this was not a one-off but a pattern of behaviour which I have observed over several years."

Cr Walker said Cr Vandervis was "screaming and yelling".

It was an over-the-top "tirade" and Cr Vandervis was "red-faced and almost spitting", Cr Walker said in his account.

Cr Laufiso said the faces of Cr Garey and Cr Vandervis were about 20cm apart.

Cr Andrew Whiley said the behaviour of Cr Vandervis was intimidating and his apology was weak.

Cr Jim O’Malley said he heard a very loud altercation and noted that trying to change a ruling by force was inappropriate.

Cr Mike Lord said Cr Vandervis stood uncomfortably close to Cr Garey and he was overpowering, because of his height.

Cr Jules Radich, however, was on the other side of the room, with his back turned, and did not notice anything.

Councillors who will be deliberating on the complaints were advised not to talk to media and they were wary of making statements that could be seen as prejudicial.

The council has kept a file on Cr Vandervis since 2012 and, as of July, it listed 27 recorded incidents.

They range from claims of swearing and bullying to spraying saliva.

Cr Vandervis rejected the file as "manufactured rubbish".

The story so far


2012: Dunedin City Council begins confidential file on Cr Lee Vandervis.

Late 2014-early 2015: Code of conduct complaints (bullying, aggressive and misleading behaviour) are upheld. Cr Vandervis storms out of meeting to discuss his punishment,  given 24 hours to offer a "genuine" apology for his behaviour or be stripped of his voting rights. Apology considered insufficient, he is suspended from voting at all council committees for two months.

2017: Mayor Dave Cull pays Cr Vandervis $50,000 in defamation case following a heated exchange during a council meeting in 2015, when Cr Vandervis claimed to have paid a backhander to secure a council contract in the 1980s. Mr Cull called him a "liar" and ejected him from the meeting after he suggested he had given Mr Cull "personal evidence" to back his claim.

2020: Vandervis file released after complaint to ombudsman. It details 27 recorded incidents, including standing over, bullying, implying incompetence and corruption, shouting at, berating, intimidating, denigrating, swearing at council staff.

 

Comments

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Files. Code of conduct complaints. Er, who died here?

Mr Vandervis may indeed be totally obnoxious, but so what? These handsomely-paid but unbelievably-precious councillors knew what they were getting into when they stood for election. To go running to teacher every time their feelings are hurt now makes a mockery of their claim to serve the city.

But so what.. Well he's getting handsomely paid, and he's making a mockery of his claim to serve the city. He's clearly a slice short of a loaf to jeopardise his free meal ticket over the trivial matters of Dunedin, let alone speak to woman in such a threatening manner.

In Dunedin, being 'precious' is the usual response to complaint, when people are genuinely scared. It applies to institutions.

1/ One hundred and fifty eight advertisements had to be scrolled past to get to the comments section. That's appalling.
2/ How about some balance on a Vandervis story ODT - just for once. The election hit job showed to be largely an ODT beat-up. The video proved the argument was nothing at all like the original hysterical description given in the ODT. Back then, former service center staff said the Vandervis argument was more mild than other cases they had to deal with EVERY single day. But that wasn't mentioned by the ODT
3/ Yesterday it was reported Cnr Geary's said that she was not scared, but now the ODT has dropped that statement and swapped it with one that she was fearful.
4/ It's widely known and talked about, that when it comes to Cnr Vandervis the ODT will be doing it's best to do a hit job.

One more thing
5/ ODT totally failed to report anything about what the original point of order was about.

Failure of proper reporting just adds weight to Vandervis's argument that this mainly about covering up due process and bad decisions.

How credible is criticism based on animus toward the publisher?

How credible is not reporting ALL the facts.

I only ever met him once and that was when he queue jumped me at the farmers market. Typical of him it seems.

Secret files? Sounds like the DCC is modeled after the KGB only less efficient? A total load of garbage.

It is absolutely indefensible to dispute any ruling of the Chair, whether it is done during a council meeting or afterwards. It is like arguing with or even threatening the referee. It is a breach of Standing Orders and all Councillors promise to comply with these as part of their solemn declaration to uphold the law which they must make before taking up office. Any elected rep who doesn’t honour this solemn declaration is effectively perjuring themselves and I think the whole Council should collectively vote to hold them in contempt until they are willing to make their solemn declaration again in all sincerity. Without the rule of law, local government meetings would be utter chaos and the council unable to function.

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