Vandervis' access to staff reinstated

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vandervis
Outspoken city councillor Lee Vandervis has been given an early Christmas present - permission to talk to Dunedin City Council staff again.

Cr Vandervis had been banned from talking directly to most staff for more than a year, after giving orders to some - and describing others as ''dogs'' - in a series of angry emails in September last year.

That prompted then-acting chief executive Athol Stephens to instruct council staff receiving phone calls or emails from Cr Vandervis to forward them to their general managers.

The council's customer services agency staff were also told to divert Cr Vandervis' phone calls to staff to general managers.

The ban lasted 15 months, until formally lifted by council chief executive Paul Orders yesterday.

Cr Vandervis said when contacted the move was ''hardly a present'' and ''nothing to be congratulated on''.

''It was an absolutely unwarranted, illegal and unworkable suggestion anyway.''

Mr Orders, in an email to senior managers yesterday, said the decision was a ''matter of principle''.

It followed the decision by councillors earlier this month to abandon a code of conduct complaint by Cr Vandervis against Mayor Dave Cull without resolution, meaning all complaints were now resolved.

A copy of Mr Orders' email was released to the Otago Daily Times following an official information request.

In it, he wrote the councillors' decision to resolve outstanding complaints had ''prompted me to consider the restrictions'' placed on Cr Vandervis.

''As a matter of principle, I have reservations about applying such an open-ended sanction on an elected member.

''I have reflected on this carefully and have taken the decision to rescind the restriction forthwith and I expect that Councillor Vandervis is given access to appropriate professional staff advice on the same basis as that of any other councillor.''

The most inflammatory of Cr Vandervis' emails, on August 16 last year, was sent to Mr Stephens and four senior managers.

In it, Cr Vandervis expressed anger at council parking wardens ticketing vehicles in the central city after heavy snow.

''Staff of the DCC,'' he wrote.

''Get our parking wardens off the streets IMMEDIATELY! NOW!!

''Failure to respond by return with the decision to call the DCC dogs off our hapless motorists WILL RESULT IN AN ENTIRELY PREVENTABLE PUBLIC ESCALATION.''

Cr Vandervis' message - using capital letters, which typically indicated shouting - was followed hours later by an apology to any staff who felt ''personally abused''.

However, days later, Cr Vandervis emailed another staff member questioning the ''dysfunctional'' management of council parking facilities and labelling the council ''a self-serving bureaucratic culture with little specific expertise''.

The emails prompted complaints from Crs Kate Wilson and Syd Brown. Cr Vandervis criticised the ban that followed as ''utterly draconian'' and expressed hope Mr Orders would intervene.

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