Swearing, spraying saliva and shouting: The full Vandervis files

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vandervis
A file of incidents involving Cr Lee Vandervis includes claims of swearing, bullying and spraying saliva. Read it in full here.

Last week, the Ombudsman ruled in favour of the Otago Daily Times and in response to an official information request from late last year, the Dunedin City Council yesterday released a summary of a file it has kept on Cr Vandervis that dates back to 2012.

Council chief executive Sue Bidrose said the council had been so concerned by the behaviour of the councillor that for the past eight years it had logged incidents to ensure it was seen to take staff safety seriously.

Far from being "manufactured rubbish", all bar three of the 27 incidents were witnessed by other people, she said.

"The file became public prior to the election when the councillor himself placed online a set of emails, with one by the mayor referring to a series of bullying complaints against him."

She said the council had initially denied the ODT request for information to protect Cr Vandervis’ privacy.

However, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier overruled that decision in his June 30 opinion.

"The public interest considerations favouring release of the information outweigh the privacy interests to the extent that a summary of certain information should be released," Mr Boshier said.

Cr Vandervis rejected the file as "manufactured rubbish".

He said he had not known the file was being kept on him until last year, and said he expected not all staff at the council liked him.

He had been looking into staff behaviour at the council for years, including corruption, such as $1.5million Citifleet fraud that was uncovered by the council in 2014.

"[And] some of the 1000 staff members that are there take to making outlandish comments about things that I have supposedly done — untrue in almost all cases.

"And the chief executive keeps this secret file for how many years, prior to using it in the election where it looked very much like I was going to be the mayor?"

Councillor Lee Vandervis "sits out" a council meeting while a motion to have him censured is...
Councillor Lee Vandervis "sits out" a council meeting while a motion to have him censured is heard last year. Photo: ODT files

The full incident file

 

Incidents recorded in 2012

 

Description: Shouting at staff member

Process and actions taken: Incident logged and offered support.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: General manager discussed behaviour with Cr Vandervis

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

 

Description: Threatening staff employment security if elected mayor

Process and actions taken: Incident logged and offered support.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: General manager discussed behaviour with Cr Vandervis

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Incidents recorded in 2013

 

Description: Bullying - in public in council meeting.

Process and actions taken: Incident logged and offered support. Encrypted Health and Safety Incident record begun

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Mayor informed, for tighter control at meetings

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Incidents recorded in 2014

 

Description: Bullying, overtalking, implying not doing job - in council meeting.

Process and actions taken: Incident logged.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Mayor told, and talked to Councillor about his behaviour.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

 

Description: Threatening to publicly humiliate staff through the media.

Process and actions taken: Email sighted.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken Chief executive officer spoke to councillor about intimidating, threatening staff, and the power differential.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

 

Description: Bullying and denigrating staff, publicly questioning competence - at council meeting.

Process and actions taken: General Manager of department asked to sit up front and present reports from that department at Council.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken Councillors stepped in and told him his behaviour was unacceptable

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

 

Incidents recorded in 2015

 

Description: Shouting and berating seated staff member while leaning over him

Process and actions taken: Incident logged.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken Staff member requested no action be taken

Gender of staff member/s involved:  Male

 

Description:  Shouting, accusing one staff member and then all staff of a department of corruption - at meeting 

Process and actions taken: Incident logged. 

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken Chief executive told Councillor at meeting his behaviour was unacceptable.  CEO asked by email afterwards for any evidence of his unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

 

Description: Displayed aggressive behaviour at staff member - at Council meeting

Process and actions taken: Incident logged, staff spoken with.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken CEO issued Councillor verbal warning about yelling and aggression towards staff.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

 

Description: Shouting, yelling, spraying saliva and swearing and aggression - prior to council meeting

Process and actions taken: Formal Code of Conduct Complaint.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken Councillor ordered to apologise following code of conduct proceedings. Gave "apology for hallway loudness" and then censured by council.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Councillor Lee Vandervis walking out of a meeting where fellow councillors discussed his code of...
Councillor Lee Vandervis walking out of a meeting where fellow councillors discussed his code of conduct breach. Photo: ODT files

Description: Shouted at person, alleged corruption without evidence

Process and actions taken: Formal Code of Conduct Complaint In Code of Conduct process along with above incident.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

 

Description: Was rude to staff member prior to meeting. Generic complaint about councillor's treatment of staff, especially females.

Process and actions taken: Incident logged, staff member told of discussions with councillor by CEO and Mayor.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken 

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

 

Description: Staff fear of again being belittled and bullied, anxiety prior to Council meeting

Process and actions taken: General manager ordered to physically sit up front and present Council reports with staff in that area. Raised with Mayor. Chairs asked to more proactively shut down abuse. 

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken 

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Councillor Lee Vandervis speaks at a council meeting in 2017. Photo: ODT files
Councillor Lee Vandervis speaks at a council meeting in 2017. Photo: ODT files

Incidents recorded in 2016

Description: Media interview where Councillor publicly expressed desire for actions at meetings that would land him in jail.

Process and actions taken: None as the perceived threat may have been aimed at other Councillors rather than staff.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

 

Description: Concern raised about repeated intimidation and suggestions of staff ineptness in areas where he holds contrary opinion.

Process and actions taken: Chief executive raised with executive leadership team. Agreed to remove staff names from reports in 'risky' areas, due to risk of formal Health and Safety complaint.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO raised it with Chairs of committees (to more proactively stop it) and with the Councillor.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

 

Description: Raising voice, overbearing behaviour.

Process and actions taken: Incident logged.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO passed on her thanks to Mayor and Chairs for proactively trying to stop the behaviour.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female.

 

Description: Generic complaint about intimidating staff to point of tears.

Process and actions taken: Incident logged.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO passed on staff thanks to Mayor and Chairs for proactively trying to stop the behaviour.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female.

 

Description: Email to staff accusing of incompetence and threatening 'long term problem' for them.

Process and actions taken: Staff requested no complaint be laid. CEO and Mayor agreed and staff informed they could disregard the email and refuse to answer any further that had abusive content.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Councillor spoken to about rude tone, power imbalance between him and staff who cannot answer back, health and safety obligations

Gender of staff member/s involved: Three males

Incidents recorded in 2017

Description: Alleging many staff involved in corruption and fraud, cover-up by senior staff

Process and actions taken: All the people told this by the Councillor were rung by CEO to say it was untrue, and the allegations were made with no evidence to back them up.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Nil

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

 

Description: In email to wide audience, made accusations of staff having 'bent agendas', no backing evidence of corruption.

Process and actions taken: CEO replies to all email recipients pointing out the allegation is without any supporting evidence.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO emails entire group, Councillor told by to abide by Councillor Code of Conduct, treat staff with respect, and requests evidence of corruption is brought through fraud processes for investigation. Mayor also emails group, reminding Councillors that staff are not to be not to bullied.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

Incidents recorded in 2018

Description: Agitated and aggressive behaviour towards staff member.

Process and actions taken: Staff wanted record made for Health and Safety management purposes.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested none be taken.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Male

 

Description: Public abuse and denigration of staff, belittling, questioning competence, in meeting. No staff present to defend reputations.

Process and actions taken: Event logged. CEO suggested person write to Mayor with complaint. No complaint made.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Nil

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

Incidents recorded in 2019

Description:Emailed wide group criticising a staff member's work, denigrating her performance.

Process and actions taken: CEO visited staff member who was distressed. Many emails received about same issue highly supportive of what she delivered.  Support provided

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO emailed all recipients, saying the email was an abuse of power and if Councillors have performance concerns they should come to the CEO/managers to deal with, not publicly criticise. Mayor also emailed saying the original email was insulting and reminding it is not Councillors' job to manage staff

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

 

Description: Overtalks, swears at and shouts down three women in a meeting.

Process and actions taken: His inappropriate behaviour raised by the CEO at the meeting.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO raised his inappropriate behaviour at the meeting.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Three females

 

Description: At staff desk angry shouting, spraying saliva

Process and actions taken: Incident logged

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested none be taken

Gender of staff member/s involved: Male

 

Description: Email to wide audience accusing staff member of ignorance, making a false claim, misrepresenting.

Process and actions taken: Executive leadership team adopts 'email quarantine policy' whereby people who abuse staff by email can have their emails 'quarantined' and lose ability to email staff. Councillors adopt policy.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO emailed all, reminding Councillor he has no role in managing or disciplining staff, his emails are bullying and abusive. Risk of Health and Safety act breach raised again. Noting this is one of several emails to him warning him about possible consequences of his behaviour.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

 

Description: In email accuses CEO of blocking a report, not replying to LGOIMAs, creating dysfunction

Process and actions taken: Incident logged

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

 

Comments

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At the very least he needs comprehensive anger management training. In almost any other job, that many complaints would have gotten him sacked. What a disgrace, so embarrassing to have such a bombastic arrogant man on council and to have so many of his apologist lackeys shouting down anyone who decries his behaviour.

Yes...forget the fact that Bidrose, the mayor or DCC took any action to corrected the alleged behavior. Also forget the fact that the secret file of allegations remaind secret for over 8 years while the alleged behaviour continued. Shouting down his behavior? Just like the victims Vandervis has rights. Hideing the allegations violated his rights. Your problem is with Bidrose and DCC for denying Vandervis his right to due process. Don't blame me or anybody else!

The behaviour was discussed with him on multiple occasions if you read the above. Over 7 years, the first two of those mostly before Bidrose took the CEO position (in Dec'13).

Don't you know it's all a conspiracy?

Fair call Luci, but the council staff, and i think of three female managers over three management levels are also not without blame. The skulldugerry they get up to would equally not be acceptable in the private sector or by ratepayers

Not accepted in the private sector? What rot. The private sector is just as bad, if not worse. The difference here is that the alleged perpetrator is an elected representative, so disciplinary action is complicated.

TheFizz, that doesn't excuse his behaviour at all. It is appalling and he should go. There is no way his repetitive bullying should be tolerated. How many warnings, before the process is a farce? It sends a terrible message to other council staff about the value their employer places on their health and safety. His behaviour has no justification or validity in the context of his job.

I still believe this is all smoke and mirrors from the CEO and Mayors, all these "Complaints" Of course people will start to shout & get frustrated if they are always stonewalled, the previous Mayor and CEO have failed in there duty, their Duty of Care to the Staff members & Rate payers. I still suspect that there is underlying factors, that the CEO and Mayor know if they took these further it would have ousted something or somebody. No Transparency or accountability- not a good look for the DCC. The CEO and Mayor were happy to accept pay cheques, but failed in a duty of care. Until all this is out in the open and openly investigated we will continue to go around in circles. Has anybody else noticed that mainly university educated people never reply to emails or answer questions directly? I suspect it is with the view they will get tired and go away and this is what causes the frustration, possibly yelling because it just ain't getting answered. Examples of this are the emails Cr Vandervis's released a while back, I suspect that Cull and CEO also had a part to play in telling staff not to answer emails from the CR Vandervis.

It's not all smoke and mirrors. I worked in a private company where he was a client ... There was significant shouting in an open, public office to get what he wanted. Inappropriate, unacceptable and upsetting.

At some point you have to wonder why the Council allows this to continue. One complaint is enough to put someone on a tight leash, let alone years of constant behavioural issues.
The Councillor is aware of their behaviour, it's just that the behaviour has next to no consequences outside of a sternly worded email. Why stop if nobody is going to punish you for it?
With that in mind, why would the Council agree to have someone so comfortable being so odious, representing their city?

"Why would the Council agree to have someone so comfortable being so odious, representing their city?"
The council don't agree to this. They have no say.
All councillors, odious or otherwise, are elected by the local populace at large. They can't boot him off. They are limited by the powers of censure available under a council's code of conduct, standing orders etc.

We have all been on the receiving end of some very frustrating comments made by council employees over the years. I have had some very frustrating inconsistent replies from staff in customer service that have left me shaking my head. I have been in Public Service for over ten years and have been instructed over that time to identify what the issues are and seek clarification with a client to identify exactly what information is being sought. Unfortunately that has not always taken place. I can only imagine how some of this councilor's interactions have begun and how they have devolved. I have no doubt that his voice could be raised when frustration sets in especially if the answers are inconsistent.

Well worded comment Al, Public Service would be a rough game. On this occassion, I see this as a media driven public hanging of a valuable councillor. He has highlighted many irregularities over the years, as unpopular as his findings and questions may have been, his work is appreciated. I don't agree with his behaviour at times, but I certainly don't doubt his integrity. His agenda, unlike others, is not self serving........,people may need to think about that.

What a witch hunt this has become. Sadly, the drama will excite some readers. Put yourself in the shoes of the the hunted, how would you respond? I've seen Lee Vandervis as someone who has gone to great pains to keep our council honest. He has spent years highlighting financial issues that should really concern ratepayers. Imagine being the unpopular bloke, raising some very real concerns, only to be shut down and stonewalled, for doing one thing and one thing only.......telling the truth. Here is a fulla doing his level best for the ratepayer, for the people that voted him into council. Many acuse him of being a bully. This type of media beatup is just as confronting. I'm disappointed that ODT see fit to provide the witch hunt with oxygen. DCC took no action for 8 years, many complaints were withdrawn, why, because they didn't stand up or appear to be petty complaints. Others in council haven't been very 'calm' at times either, where is the dossier on them? Frankly, this has the hallmarks of someone being bullied out of office. ODT might want to tread carefully for fear of being seen as biased.......appalling tabloid reporting.

DCC occupied by lefty greenies reminds me
USSR in late 80's: if someone grilled by authorities that unmistakably means that he's a decent person

The summary it's self is degrading to all woman, suggesting that they are more vulnerable. By listing the gender of person involved, it implies that there is a difference between the two sexes and they are not equal. Why not state their ethnicity, religion, age or sexual preferences? Is there a difference between a man or woman being brought to the point of tears?
This looks very much like a Witch Hunt.

I often wish that Cr Vandervis was less combative in his approach. This is because I actually think that he is one of the few councillors who has a realistic handle on how the DCC operates, and its many failures, and I wish people would listen more closely to him. However, his sometimes antagonistic approach makes it easy for others to drown him out by playing the "angry man" card. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, as an old saying goes. It is clear that he has created some intense enemies at the Civic Centre because he does what councillors should do - he asks difficult questions that sometimes make council managers squirm. I think it is quite reasonable to assume that the "file" has more to do with council managers seeking to "get him" than it does about "health and safety". It has echoes of last year's scandal when another council's CEO had staff trawling councillors' social media for anything that the CEO could "get them" on. Democracy in local government is in danger, I fear. It is interesting to note how the outgoing DCC CEO's comments on Cr Vandervis appear to have taken on a sharper tone now that they are leaving the DCC. True colours?

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