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Outspoken city councillor Lee Vandervis is vowing to keep speaking his mind - while also pushing for an overhaul of Dunedin City Council finances - as he makes a fresh bid for Dunedin's mayoralty.
In his second term, he has been a persistent and vocal thorn in the side of incumbent Mayor Dave Cull while lambasting the state of the council's finances over the past three years.
And he is not letting up in this year's election campaign, defending his outbursts at councillors and staff while describing the last term as a ''constant series of major disappointments''.
If elected, he has vowed to continue his push for a unitary council - merging the DCC and Otago Regional Council - to cut costs and use the savings to accelerate repayment of Forsyth Barr Stadium debt.
Why are you standing again?
I'm standing for the mayoralty because the current mayor, and the mayor before him, I believe had little business understanding and were quite happy to keep an unaffordable status quo going, fuelling it with debt. I've been in business and employing people for 30 years. I know that you simply can't keep doing things on debt. I'm also very aware of the fact that we do not have a mechanism for paying for the stadium.
The supposed mechanism for paying for the stadium, and it's been in place for five years now, was that DCHL was going to deliver a $23.5 million dividend every year, and that was going to do most of the paying for the stadium ... they simply can't deliver a $23.5 million dividend, so that was reduced to $15 million. It's been shown they can't deliver $15 million dividend, either. That's now been reduced to something like $10 million. We've got no way of paying for the stadium. We've got a massive increase in debt while Mayor Cull's been there.
Are you not satisfied by the efforts of Mr Cull and the council to accelerate debt repayments and cut costs in the last term?
Worse than not satisfied ... Since stadium debt budgeting projections began, the payback period has always been 20 years, and has remained 20 years right up until this term. It's only during Mayor Cull's term as mayor that the payback period [for stadium debt] was mysteriously doubled, from 20 to 40 years, adding over $100 million in interest costs, and I led the charge to get it reduced.
What other major issues face the city and what would you do to address them?
The other major issues come back to Mayor Cull's promises ... that we wouldn't get so much of the spending and pet projects and all the other stuff that I believed Mayor [Peter] Chin was guilty of. However, the last three years has been a constant series of major disappointments in Mayor Cull, where all the things he said he was going to do in terms of being transparent, in terms of being responsible about spending and debt, none of the things have actually happened.
The council has made some steps forward in both areas, hasn't it?
If you describe a step forward as taking debt up ... that's a step forward in number terms, but a step backwards in terms of debt. In terms of transparency, one of the things Mayor Cull did fairly early on was set up a ... completely non-transparent liaison committee, essentially with his hand-picked councillors ... The transparency that he promised at the last election simply hasn't happened.
What's your vision for the city and how will you make it happen?
My vision for the city is to get the finances not just under control, but actually get the stadium paid off. Without paying down the stadium debt, it's going to continue to be a thorn in our side. We're looking at a generation of unaffordable interest payments ... we should go for a unitary council, where we absorb the regional council.
We have one council, we vastly reduce the costs of running local government, and better than that, we get the profits of Port Otago and we get the leasehold land issue on the harbourside dealt with, essentially by selling off the leasehold land ... We would be able to generate, I believe, pretty much enough money to pay off, at least, the stadium chunk of the debt. We could do that in two to three years.
You've stood unsuccessfully for mayor before - what makes this time different?
I have managed to increase my vote at every election, and if I increase my vote significantly enough in this election, I believe I've actually got a chance of making it, especially if Hilary Calvert takes a lot of the female vote off Mayor Cull, where he usually does very well. I think there is actually a chance that I could actually make the mayoralty on votes this time. Not a big chance, but I'm in there.
You've clashed with the mayor and some councillors, and you were even banned from talking to council staff for a while. What makes you leadership material?
I think exactly that - the fact that I'm prepared to speak up; the fact that I'm prepared to say the things that a lot of people are thinking, and just don't ever have the courage to say it.
But how do you get anything done if you can't work with people?
Who says I can't work with people? I work with people exceedingly well . . . I believe I have a very good relationship with [chief executive] Paul Orders. There's no doubt I have some frictional relationships at times, in terms of issues with other councillors. But I don't believe any of them dislike me personally.
But can you win support for ideas around the council table?
Very obviously - just in [last week's] meetings I've been winning support for a number of changes to what is really, to me, a quite abhorrent transportation strategy.
Is that winning support or is that other people relenting?
Whether it's winning [support] or relenting, the fact is that they are actually having to come to see that everything that they've been doing so far is able to be improved. If I can, as a single councillor, produce enough relenting to actually change significant documents, then obviously I have quite a lot of sway with my fellows.
Have you learned any lessons in the last term?
There's quite a bit I would do differently and one of the joys of growing old is that you realise that you're lucky not to be as silly as you were last year. I genuinely believe that and that's been the case every year for some number of years now ... I don't mean to upset people. But what I've learned is that unless I use colourful language, it doesn't get reported. And if it doesn't get reported, nothing changes.
You often seem quite angry in meetings. Are you an angry man?
I don't think I'm an angry man. I certainly don't think my family see me that way. But I do have to admit that a lot of what goes on in council does make me very angry.
What community involvement have you had?
Not a hell of a lot. In my job running the largest lighting hire business in Dunedin [Vandervision], I spent an awful lot of time in public meetings ... so, in terms of what was happening in the community, I've been very much involved.
How are you funding your campaign?
I try not to overspend the $40-odd grand I get as a councillor, but I'm afraid I fail at that. I'm funding it by a bit of debt and by a bit of the good wishes of my dear wife.
Not at this stage ... I'm not really keen on spending an awful lot of money on an election campaign, or anything else for that matter.
How much do you expect to spend?
A very modest spend, I would have thought - $4000 or $5000.
How do you describe your politics?
Neither left nor right. I'm perceived by some people as being very right wing, in that I think that people should actually pay for things themselves, where possible. But then I have some very left wing sides, as well ... if you look at a colour picture it's made up of red, blue and green, and I think I'm all of the above.
Who do you vote for nationally?
I've voted for most of the major parties in the past. I voted for the Greens in the last two elections.
Who are your supporters here?
I'm told by people who analyse these things that I have something of a Winston Peters demographic ... older people respond to me very well. Males tend to respond to me fairly well. Middle-aged females tend not to respond to me so well.