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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".