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"There is no national code of conduct for local government," Massey University senior lecturer Andy Asquith said.
Induction processes for councillors were "somewhat hit and miss" through New Zealand and he felt more rigorous training for them could help raise the standard.
Dr Asquith’s comments followed a series of problems related to council governance in the country.
In Dunedin, Cr Vandervis could face sanctions for what an investigator found was intimidating behaviour.
Councillors will decide on Tuesday whether Cr Vandervis — about whom the Dunedin City Council has kept a substantial file relating to claims of bullying and other incidents — breached the code of conduct.
He is accused of shouting at deputy mayor Christine Garey after a July 28 council meeting, standing over her and waving his finger in her face.
Cr Vandervis will have the chance on Tuesday to defend his conduct.
If he is found in breach by a panel of eight councillors, possible penalties include suspension from committees or being "invited" to resign.
He cannot be sacked.
When he read the range of penalties Cr Vandervis could face, Dr Asquith laughed.
"It’s a slap on the wrist, then," he said.
However, University of Victoria in Wellington management senior lecturer Geoff Plimmer said the private sector was not necessarily better at handling such situations.
Organisations would often do what was necessary to get to the bottom of allegations, he said.
However, they tended to be not so good at creating a culture where bullying was not tolerated.
Nor did they tend to excel at picking up the pieces when damage had been caused, he said.
Workplace conduct has been in the spotlight in both the public and private sectors.
Law firm Russell McVeagh has been under intense scrutiny and the Independent External Review into Bullying and Harassment in the New Zealand Parliamentary Workplace final report was released last year.
Dr Plimmer said people were often unwilling to take a stand and some behaviours were ambiguous.
"Traditionally, people have tolerated a lot of poor behaviour," Dr Plimmer said.
The conduct of Cr Vandervis was "odd’,’ and intimidating behaviour was not modelling "effective leadership and citizenship", Dr Plimmer said.
Cr Garey has said she ought to feel safe in what she called her workplace.
She also took aim at what seemed to be a pattern of behaviour from Cr Vandervis.
Cr Vandervis did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.
Dr Asquith said health and safety rules relating to councillors might well need to be clarified.
Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) is looking into whether health and safety legislation applies to elected members.
LGNZ was also developing further guidance for councils regarding workplace safety and behaviour at governance level, a spokesman said.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment policy manager Tracy Mears said every workplace, including in local government, should have policies and practices to prevent bullying and harassment, and to deal with it when it happened.
The ministry released an issues paper on the subject in August and is seeking feedback.
A Dunedin City Council spokesman said it had developed policies, processes and systems designed to keep staff and elected members safe.