Vandervis hits back at claims

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vanderis
Allegations of leaning over and berating a staff member, swearing, "spraying saliva", and threatening staff job security if he was elected mayor have all been levelled against Cr Lee Vandervis.

This 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.

Last night, Cr Vandervis said he would contact his lawyer on Monday and pushed back against the "absolutely false ... defamatory scam".

"That is absolutely untrue — that is an absolute bare-faced lie. I have never ever said as claimed that I would fire someone when I became mayor. That is absurd — mayors can’t fire people anyway," he said.

"That is just absolute scandalous invention.

"I reject all and any of these claims as being manufactured rubbish."

The incidents include:

  • The register includes allegations that in 2013 Cr Vandervis was bullying in a council meeting.
  • In 2015, he was said to have shouted and berated a seated staff member "while standing over him".
  • In 2016, there was a "generic complaint about intimidating staff to point of tears".
  • He alleged "many staff" were involved in corruption in fraud in 2017, which included a "cover-up by senior staff".
  • There was alleged "public abuse and denigration of staff" in 2018. 
  • In 2019, he allegedly "overtalks, swears at and shouts down three women in a meeting".

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.

  • 2012 - the year the Dunedin City Council began a confidential file on Cr Lee Vandervis
  • 27 incidents recorded
  • 2 formal code of conduct complaints, both in 2015
  • 23 of 27 incidents ‘‘seen by others’’
  • 16 of 27 incidents against women  

The register of 27 recorded incidents is the only one of its kind for an elected member in the council’s confidential system.

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.

The previous chief executive advised Dr Bidrose to set up the file through the council’s human resources department when she held the strategy and development general manager’s role "because it was beginning to be a pattern of behaviour — and we needed to keep a record of how we’d responded to show that we were proactively looking after our staff’s well-being", she said.

"We don’t have a complaints file — this file was set up specifically so that we could prove — should we get prosecuted — we could prove we had taken actions to protect the staff," Dr Bidrose said.

"This file was kept so that we had a record of the actions we were taking in order to reduce the impact of this behaviour on staff — or to try to stop the behaviour".

Cr Vandervis had been informed "this kind of behaviour presents an organisational risk — a risk that a staff member will be emotionally impacted", which could have resulted in a staff member taking the issue up with WorkSafe.

Cr Vandervis 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?"

In August last year, Cr Vandervis said he was the victim of a "premeditated" smear campaign just weeks out from the local body elections in October after the ODT reported the allegations against him that led to yesterday’s release of the confidential health and safety register.

In 2015, Cr Vandervis was temporarily stripped of his voting rights after a formal code of conduct complaint.

In the last triennium, 2016-19, there were 12 incidents involving the councillor recorded.

There was at least one incident since those included in the summary, which only covered the period identified in the official information act request.

"There is a power differential which is repeatedly pointed out [to Cr Vandervis]," Dr Bidrose said. "A councillor — if they’re going to yell and shout and accuse somebody of being inept, staff are not in a position where they can do that back.

"That is what puts an onus on councillors to abide by the code of conduct that says you are to treat staff with respect."

She said the council did all it could "within the bounds of the law" to try to keep staff safe, but she said there were times when the work environment was "unpleasant".

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

Comments

View all

How is it, that everyone time certain people in this council are under pressure for their performance, stories like this emerge against those who question them???

Negative, nasty and not welcome.

Anyone that knows him, knows the truth (BULLY)

A person with two distinct sides to his personality. I have said before that Cr Vandervis has a nice streak. But straight as a dye and that counts a lot for me. If he does get enraged, I think it because he perceives that the truth is not being adhered to. I would prefer more flexibility but, with human beings, you always get the whole package. And there are no perfect people. If you are looking for one of those to be your elected rep, you will be waiting forever. I have always been a supporter of his policies, specially his financial prudence. He always thoroughly reads agendas and I think he understands all the financial stuff which I don't. The voters will decide. IMO Dunedin has more talent on the present DCC than any time in the past twenty years that I have been in Dunedin. And IMO Dr Bidrose was a 100 % NOT CORRUPT Chief Executive. I am not allowed to say that was a big step forward for Dunedin for fear of being defamatory.

"But straight as a dye and that counts a lot for me." and many others would agree. His understanding of the financials and his honesty speaks volumes. If a bit of jumping up and down is required, then so be it. He's not the only one to get hot under the collar! They virtually all have at some time or other.
This is a smear campaign, a witch hunt, pure and simple. Stick at it Lee.........

So the DCC is now keeping files on its harsher critics. No doubt it also wants a City Security Law to keep these critics in line.

The 'power imbalance' argument is hilarious. As anyone who's ever had to deal with councils knows, all the power lies with them.

Another parting gift from Bidrose. Yes, a true professional in every sense of the word? Bidrose was so concerned about the safety and wellbeing of the DCC staff that she set up a secret complaints file specifically against Vandervis: “so that we could prove, should we get prosecuted, we had taken actions to protect the staff”. That’s dereliction of duty and constitutes negligence; that doesn’t protect DCC from a lawsuit, it proves complicity with illegal acts! Either the 27 complaints were legitimate and Bidrose did nothing to correct the problem or there was nothing to the 27 complaints and Bidrose opted to keep the secret file to use against him at a later date. Either way, it would appear Mr Vandervis’s rights were violated. DCC has it in for Vandervis and it would appear Bidrose was an instrument being used against him. This really needs to be investigated externally by an independent party.

An orchestrated smear campaign or a person that is a danger to others? If you throw enough mud some will stick or no smoke without fire? Is he being bullied or is he the bully? Is he the Gordon Ramsey of local government (a bit of a #### but gets great results)?
People have told me he is a "Vile Man" yet they have never met him. I have met him but have no opinion about his personality.
I hope the ODT can find the resources to actually investigate these allegations in a fair and independent manner and not just be the tool used for mud throwing!

So the rate payers are funding the Green Stasi now....
Wonderful, just wonderful....

A total beat-up by council and part of the political long game of discrediting him to get a pc wowser into mayor. This council is run by a lesbian cabal throughout the management structures and crush anyone who stands in their way. Its time for dcc management to work for thr people and not themselves. Sadly the public comment and have little idea of the truth.

What has being lesbian got to do with the price of butter? I think you maybe right in that there is a cabal however you are very wrong to call it a lesbian one. Unless Mr Hawkins is not telling us something!

I’ve been to a few council and community council meetings and have witnessed out and out bullying from council staff and elected council members alike, there’s a culture not conducive to ‘getting the job done’. I like what Vandervis stands for, if he gets a bit cranky at times who can blame him. Put it away CEO Bidrose, time for you to move on, I will be interested to see if the new CEO can bring about a better ‘tone’ to all council related activity. Time for a new broom from outside the present regime, with a fresh inclusive attitude.

I think Vandervis would have an excellent case against the DCC and potentially against Bidrose personally. They fostered a hostile work environment, violated his right to privicy and a slew of other offensenses. I hope he sues and wins big. I'd rather have my rates going into his pockets than the corrupt dunces running the DCC! Sue them Lee!

I think this story demonstrates some of the biggest problems with the DCC. First and foremost, Bidroses' inaction demonstrates a total lack of professionalism. She alleges in 2012 that Vandervis represents a significant threat to the physical safety and wellbeing of the DCC. Yet the only thing she does is to start a “secret” file documenting complaints against Vandervis for the sole purpose: “should we be prosecuted”. This isn’t leadership! This isn’t management, its management by exception! The behaviour was so bad that Bidrose needed to protect herself from prosecution but not bad enough to stop the behaviour to protect the safety and wellbeing of the staff! What a load of crap! A competent, professional leader would have taken the appropriate action to discipline Vandervis and end the behavior PERIOD! Bidrose didn’t do that, she allegedly documented more bad behavior on 26 different occasions. The emergence of these allegations has opened the DCC and Bidrose to all sorts of legal problems. Her lack of professionalism demonstrates just how far she was out of her depth. We paid this dimwit $500K a year for what. DCC needs to stop the nepotism in hiriing! Sickening!

The honesty, integrity and 'balance' that Vandervis brings to council is appreciated by a huge number of Dunedin ratepayers. We have a number of really good councillors, and Lee Vandervis is certainly one of them. I do however look forward to better standard of leadership.

Lee is our little version of Trump, fighting the Dunedin swamp, the incumbent media, and cosy green communists and labour hangovers. Back him, or pack your gulag bag.

I just love it when certain groups demand to be referred to as simply workers, but the minute they want to attack someone, it becomes an issue of sex - as in Cr Vandervis argued against 3 women. Not council employees, but poor insecure women.

Just typical sexist rubbish being used as a weapon against someone who stands up for common sense.

All of this just demonstrates what a thankless job being an elected rep at local government level is. A full time job on part time pay, in the public eye so every skeleton in your closet risks being dragged out by your political opponents and no support staff like Parliamentary Services provides for MPs and no Party ‘machine’ to provide you with policy analysts, secretarial support and legal cover - not if you are a TRUE INDEPENDENT as the law requires. And you will usually have to foot the entire bill for your election campaign.

View all

Our journalists are your neighbours

We are the South's eyes and ears in crucial council meetings, at court hearings, on the sidelines of sporting events and on the frontline of breaking news.

As our region faces uncharted waters in the wake of a global pandemic, Otago Daily Times continues to bring you local stories that matter.

We employ local journalists and photographers to tell your stories, as other outlets cut local coverage in favour of stories told out of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

You can help us continue to bring you local news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter