Vandervis inquiry 'flawed and unfair', High Court told

The investigation into a Dunedin city councillor who was censured over an exchange with a staff member about parking was flawed and unfair, the High Court has been told.

Cr Lee Vandervis was found to have behaved in an aggressive, loud and intimidating fashion during the incident last year.

But his lawyer, Len Andersen, QC, told the court today that independent investigator David Benham should not have been appointed and the investigation he ran was not fair.

The council's censure of Cr Vandervis should be set aside, he said.

Lawyers for the Dunedin City Council argued the council's decision should not be cancelled by the court.

The key allegations about Cr Vandervis' behaviour were fairly put to him and he took the chance to provide a lengthy response in his interview with Mr Benham, they submitted.

Councillor Lee Vandervis. Photo: ODT files
Councillor Lee Vandervis. Photo: ODT files

The incident involved Cr Vandervis making a complaint to a council staff member about parking. The staff member's version of events was that the dispute was over a parking ticket. Cr Vandervis has disputed that, arguing it was about a faulty and wrongly labelled meter.

Mr Benham decided after a preliminary hearing that a full investigation of Cr Vandervis' conduct was needed and he then found against Cr Vandervis after that investigation.

Based on his report, city councillors issued Cr Vandervis with a censure for breaching the code of conduct.

But Mr Andersen took issue with Mr Benham arriving at the view a full investigation was warranted without first talking to Cr Vandervis.

He also said Cr Vandervis was not provided with witness statements and Mr Benham did not proactively make clear to Cr Vandervis all the elements of what he was accused of.

Mr Andersen said the council's chief executive was the only person entitled to make a code of conduct complaint.

But the chief executive at the time, Sue Bidrose, appeared to act as a facilitator for the staff member and documentation did not show she assumed responsibility for the complaint, he said.

Michael Garbett and Shelley Chadwick were the lawyers for the council, and for Mr Benham.

Mr Garbett said Cr Vandervis made full submissions both to Mr Benham and to councillors.

Ultimately, councillors decided to censure Cr Vandervis, and there would need to be a clear procedural error and prejudice for that to be quashed, he said.

The suggestion Dr Bidrose was bypassed when the complaint was pursued did not fit with reality, he said.

Justice David Gendall has reserved his decision.

 

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