Enmities boil over after councillor's email attack

Colin Weatherall
Colin Weatherall
A public email attack by a Dunedin city councillor on a colleague has been described as offensive and destructive by Mayor Dave Cull, who says the councillor's behaviour belittles elected representatives and brings the council into disrepute.

The email from Cr Lee Vandervis to Cr Colin Weatherall and the "derogatory" remarks it contained were "in keeping with [Cr Vandervis'] gratuitous and deliberately provocative personalising of the issues he has wanted to canvass in the public arena", Mr Cull said last night.

"Given the widespread dissemination of this latest offensive statement, no apology, even if there were a possibility of it being genuine, can take back the hurt and damage caused by it."

The email to Cr Weatherall, circulated by Cr Vandervis to the Saddle Hill Community Board, city councillors and media yesterday morning, said: "I can understand you wanting to protect your son's income from the Saddle Hill Community Board, but wonder why barely half the board members showed up for the last Community Board meeting including you and your son. Not that you both missed much."

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vandervis
The day of that meeting, Cr Weatherall was in Mercy Hospital recovering from the removal the previous day of a burst appendix and part of his lower bowel.

His son, Scott, could not attend the board meeting because he was working a shift as a paramedic for St John.

The latest incident follows an exchange of emails between councillors following Cr Vandervis' recent public criticism of community boards.

In yesterday's email, Cr Vandervis went on to say: "There has been a lot of huff about me needing to attend meetings to see what is going on. The meeting minutes tell the story, and note that attendance is not a priority even to members."

Cr Weatherall said he took the email as a personal attack on his and his son's credibility and had written to Cr Vandervis asking him to withdraw his comments and apologise in writing to both men.

Cr Vandervis last night sent an email to the same group apologising unreservedly to the Weatheralls, withdrawing in particular his comment about Cr Weatherall wanting to protect his son's income.

"I now see that it can be seen in a much more negative light than I intended.

"Withdrawing and apologizing is the best I can do now, and I hope to do better in future."

In an email circulated to the same group later last night, Mr Cull said that even with the apology, it would be impossible to take back the damage such a calculated dissemination of "hurtful" comments had caused.

"Such internecine attacks throw no light on the issues being raised, but bring council into disrepute by association.

"Canvassing issues is fine, but it challenges our community to retain respect for council when an elected member repeatedly and baselessly questions the integrity of, and belittles, other elected representatives.

"I very much lament that."

Cr Vandervis responded by saying the mayor casting aspersions on the sincerity of his apology, using language "that is as unfortunate in its choice of words as my original ill-considered comment", hardly seemed to be the action of a person endeavouring to ensure the community regarded the council with respect.

Mr Cull said there had been a "considerable amount of comment" from other councillors, who were "outraged" about Cr Vandervis' original email.

He was out of town yesterday and was not sure last night if he had received a formal code of conduct complaint, but would investigate today.

Cr Weatherall said he would think overnight about whether to make a formal complaint.

Council staff were instructed not to talk to Cr Vandervis last year after a series of angry emails in which he gave orders to some council staff and described others as "dogs".

Those emails prompted several formal complaints against the councillor.

- debbie.porteous@odt.co.nz


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