Mayoral profile: Lee Vandervis

Dunedin businessman Lee Vandervis is standing again for mayor and as a city councillor. Photo by...
Dunedin businessman Lee Vandervis is standing again for mayor and as a city councillor. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
What do you know about the candidates who are contesting Dunedin's mayoral campaign in the 2010 local body elections? Today, in the second of a seven-part Mayoral Profile series, Chris Morris puts the questions to Lee Vandervis.

Lee Vandervis

Age: 55

Marital/family status: Married (second time), eight children between them.

Occupation: Acoustic engineer (working from home)/businessman.

Council experience: Dunedin city councillor, 2004-2007.

Running for: Mayor and council (central ward).

Outspoken businessman Lee Vandervis (55) is back for another crack at the Dunedin mayoralty.

After a sole term as a Dunedin city councillor, Mr Vandervis was voted out by the narrowest of margins - just four votes after special votes were counted - when he stood again as a councillor, and for the mayoralty, in the 2007 local body elections.

Still a passionate critic of the Forsyth Barr Stadium and the city's debt, Mr Vandervis is promising more frugality and a focus on cutting council costs, as well as initiatives to help revitalise Dunedin.

Why are you standing?

I'm standing basically because I think I'm the only one who can dig Dunedin out of its hole of debt at the moment.

And why do you think that?

Well, I saw it coming.

If you go back to a paper I produced for council in 2006, it outlined the way of reversing the inevitable ... debt increase [and] rates increases.

It was just on a page; I worked very hard to get it on a page, and it gave, line-by-line, 30 different suggestions for reducing the rates by anything up to 5%.

It's still quite relevant now.

Most of the things on it are things we needed to do then, and we need even more to do them now.

We have reached the prudential limits; they [the council] have misled the public about how much the stadium's going to cost.

Everything's been done on debt.

The direction of the city council has been for vanity projects; there's no other word for them.

Lovely things though the Chinese Garden and the stadium are - they're very lovely things but completely unaffordable and just inappropriate for Dunedin.

What are the major issues facing Dunedin?

Well, No 1, debt.

No 2, how we start to focus back on quality of life for ordinary Dunedin people.

We have got a city council that spends a lot of its money outside Dunedin, doesn't support Dunedin business, so a "spend local" campaign is vital.

The nominally higher amounts you might pay a local business to do something would be recouped almost immediately with the dollars circulating locally, plus it would give that business the opportunity to expand, to grow and to actually upskill or improve whatever they are capable of doing to meet what the outside competition would be doing anyway.

Reversing the debt situation is an absolute must.

You simply can't go putting more and more of your rates every year into interest payments.

Another issue that we have got to confront is that the stadium is only a shell and is not workable as is.

The stadium lacks all the electronic scoreboards, the turnstiles and everything else that you've got to have in the stadium to make it work, and its also insufficient of a whole lot of other things.

Dunedin can't produce those amounts of money.

I've come up with the idea of a nationwide stadium lottery ...

I think people in New Zealand generally believe in a big covered stadium in Dunedin as well, and a lot of them would buy tickets every week or so, especially if - as well as cash prizes - you had prizes like, you know, Carisbrook seats which could be used for garden furniture, signed footballs, sweaty Highlanders tops , whatever.

What is your vision for Dunedin, and how will you make it happen?

The particular vision for the city is basically to allow Dunedin to really be all that it can be.

Dunedin has, almost, an art industry.

It doesn't have one in fact, but all the potential for it is here.

The artists are here, a lot of the product is here ... but it's not marketed properly.

This is something the DCC could definitely help a lot with.

The same with the music industry ...

We have got a lot of music talent in this city, but again, it's not co-ordinated, it's not promoted, it's not really an industry.

What we do do well, and have done well, here in Dunedin is sport.

Certainly we have a lot of very good sport facilities ...

My future vision for Dunedin is to have a similar vibrancy in things like the arts and heritage and the tourism that would go with that.

So, a city council that is much smaller in terms of bureaucracy but much bigger in terms of how it can actually recognise the talent we have in Dunedin and actually market and promote it, nationally and internationally.

How would you achieve those things? What specific steps would you take?

For a start, I would stop all the rates relief stuff that has been happening.

This has been pouring millions into dinosaur industries which have left Dunedin, anyway.

Rates relief is a scandalous waste of money.

I would love to see that kind of money redirected.

For instance, in the music area, simply by providing or opening up practice rooms for young bands.

I'm talking about the unused sheds along the wharf ...

That sort of thing is what you need to sort of get the starters of the music industry going.

Similarly with the art industry.

To only spend $45,000 in one year on a set of molars made out of sandstone - I'm all for sculpture in the city, but to put it in one lump and to put it in one such contentious lump, when that $45,000 could have been split up and promoting a whole lot of much smaller artists around the place ...

It just could be done so much better.

Do you like the teeth as a work of art?

No, I don't ...

They don't have any particular aesthetic appeal, and the fact they are designed to sort of go mouldy with limestone . . . I don't think that's the kind of image we want to be presenting in Dunedin.

What strengths would you bring as mayor?

One of them is that I know most of the people involved ...

There's going to be a mix of old councillors and new councillors in the new council, and I think that I would be a good referee between the Chin team, if you like, of the older councillors, and Cr Cull's newbies.

I think I would be able to allow the enthusiasm of the new councillors and the experience of the old councillors to be capitalised on and be a referee between the two teams.

If ... Cr Cull or Mayor Chin becomes the mayor again, you are going to have a very lop-sided council and a lot of infighting, I believe.

With me as mayor, I think I could actually reduce that and get the best out of the councillors that do make it.

Do you see yourself as a moderating influence, or a middle ground somewhere?

I see myself not as moderating - not at all - but I do see myself as impartial and independent.

I am not somebody who owes anybody anything.

I'm not someone who has a team to look after.

I'm somebody who I believe as a mayor would be sufficiently independent to actually look at the needs of all Dunedin people generally and then draw on the strengths of whoever is elected to actually achieve those.

I'm also somebody who is not afraid to give people bad news and not afraid to let people know exactly what's going on.

One of the things that cost me the last election was that I told people they couldn't afford a stadium, and that the idea that we could do it for $188 million was a gross misrepresentation.

That was bad news.

That didn't go down well.

I knew it was bad news.

I knew it wouldn't go down well, but I said it anyway, because someone had to say it.

And the same in this election.

If you look at everyone else, they're saying, 'We want this wonderful, we want that wonderful,' but nobody is saying how they're going to do it.

I'm telling people, 'Look, this is how you're going to do it' and some of these things are not pleasant.

What community involvement have you had?

Other than being on the city council [2004-07] ... not a hell of a lot.

I've always run my own business, which has usually taken up most of my time until I got on council.

I sold the lighting business and the shop and everything else I used to have when I got on council.

In terms of committees and things, I'm on the [Dunedin] Rudolf Steiner School proprietors board at the moment.

I do practical things for them like organise woodchips and gravel, and we just put some new heating systems in there; that kind of carry on.

I used to be in Dunedin North Rotary as well.

How are you funding your campaign?

Straight out of my own pocket.

I have a donations thing on my website, which went up only recently, and so far I've had no donations, so I'm basically just funding it out of my own pocket.

How much are you prepared to spend?

I spent $20,000 last time, which was far too much, so I'm hoping not to spend any more than $10,000 this time.

How would you describe your politics?

I don't believe left-right works at all.

In terms of wanting to make the bureaucracy efficient, I'm probably quite right-wing . . .

From a sustainability point of view I'm green, from a social point of view I'm probably red and from a 'Let's structure the business' side of things as a city councillor I'm probably quite blue.

Who do you vote for nationally?

I voted for the Greens last time.

The reason I voted for them was they had this fabulous 'vote for me' poster, and it was a little girl.

It was the first time I felt proud of a political party ...

It's for the children basically that I want to do this.

I'm all right, I've done well enough in life ...

But I would love to do something for Dunedin, especially to make it a much better place for our kids.

Who are your supporters?

My support base is probably again fairly wide, but it's probably people that are looking for a significant change who don't want more of the same.

And I think you find them just about everywhere.


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