Vandervis his own worst enemy

Lee Vandervis. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Lee Vandervis. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
What is to be done about Dunedin City councillor Lee Vandervis and his outbursts?

No doubt, Cr Vandervis maintains little needs to change. It is he who asks the hard questions, sometimes in a robust manner. It is he who is subject to “kangaroo” courts and unfair criticism.

There should be no doubt, as well, that he is clever and persistent, valuable qualities in a councillor.

It is healthy, even essential, for councils to include rebels outside the power structure and prevailing dominant views. They play a vital role questioning and challenging.

But Cr Vandervis’ style, manner and actions have repeatedly gone well beyond the acceptable. He has been rude, obnoxious and threatening to council employees from the chief executive to parking and counter staff. In the latest incident, he confronted deputy mayor Christine Garey after a meeting at which she ruled against him on a point of order.

Cr Garey has said it felt as if Cr Vandervis was going to hit her he seemed so out of control. The incident began with shouting and Cr Vandervis was yelling by the end of it.

The council’s “independent” investigator notes that Cr Steve Walker stepped in to protect the deputy mayor.

Three councillors made formal complaints. Cr Vandervis issued an apology for “loudness” and has said he did not intend to make a scene and should not have let it escalate.

In a brief statement, he also said: “Calling out people who are not doing their job, including the ODT . . . is the long-evident pattern of my behaviour in the public interest.”

In 2012, the council began keeping a file on Cr Vandervis. When released this year, it detailed 27 incidents, including alleged standing over, bullying, implying incompetence and corruption, shouting at, berating, intimidating, denigrating and swearing at council staff.

For part of 2011, council staff were under instructions not to speak to him after he gave orders to some staff and described others as ‘‘dogs’’ in a series of angry emails. In December of that year, councillors voted 13-0 to issue Cr Vandervis a written censure.

In early 2015, he was suspended from all council committees for two months.

Today, councillors are to decide whether Cr Vandervis breached the council’s code of conduct. Suspension from committees or being “invited” to resign are possible outcomes.

He cannot be sacked, which is proper because he is elected by city residents. It would be all too easy for councillors to gang up on a disliked or inconvenient member.

But, as has been remarked, the penalties appear to be just a slap on the wrist. Previous censures have had little or no effect.

If Cr Vandervis was an employee of the council itself, he would have faced formal disciplinary meetings, received warnings and — given his repeat offending — could well have been dismissed.

Although Cr Garey is hardly the type to be easily intimidated, she said she was shocked the incident happened at her workplace and she was shaken. Councillors, as well as council staff, have every right to be treated with basic courtesy and respect. They should feel “safe” at work.

There were no clear successors when mayor Dave Cull stood down before the last election. This was Cr Vandervis’ opportunity finally to win the top position. But his volatile manner and reputation have alienated too many voters, no matter how strong his core support.

If Cr Vandervis is, as expected, found “in breach”, councillors need to apply the harshest possible sanctions, perhaps merely the suspension from committees again.

Perhaps, as well, Cr Vandervis’ supporters — who appreciate his role questioning council spending and for the likes of defending the rights of city motorists — could encourage him to refrain from further outbursts.

But would Cr Vandervis be able to change? Could he stop being his own worst enemy?



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There is a Code of Conduct. Such codes usually apply to juveniles, so it may not be entirely apposite.

No matter where you go, there you are.

Trial by media?
I don't know Vandervis and I am not a supporter however I have witnessed passive aggressive bullying towards him from other councillors. It is clear that he appears to be disliked by the majority of council staff, councillors and even quite possibly the normally overly passive ODT.
I did not witness the alleged incident but it occurs to me that it is quite possible there may very well be a group of powerful individuals and others who have joined together with the aim of making Vandervis's life as difficult as possible.
Like I said I don't know him, he might very well be an aggressive bully but rather than trial by media maybe the ODT should be trying to find out who the real Vandervis is! Interview friends, family, supporters as well as former employees or work mates, neighbours or anyone you has known or knows him. Is he a lover or a hater? Passionate or passive? Violent or gentle? Generous or mean? Law abiding or law breaker? A bully or bullied?

I have never met him but have met a couple of people who know him. They say they cannot reconcile his reported behaviour at Council to the likeable person they know, so he must be a bit of an enigma.

Yes... interviewing other people doesn't constitute trial by media! Great idea!

Red Pill. Apropos general debate. I read on another thread (Editorial), that you are an American national. Rather alters a perception that you were another Kiwi opining on US politics. First hand experience acknowledged.

Vandervis is a Jekyll and Hyde character. That is to say, when he’s nice, he’s very, very nice and when he is not he is HORRID. You don’t want to be around when his EVIL TWIN appears. I regret having supported him last election.He had done so much good work in the past that I thought he had earned a shot at the mayoralty. But what I have seen this triennium puts me right off. You ask people who have actually witnessed one of his melt downs whether it was a really sudden switch. I bet they will say yes. Pretty much the testimony Crs Barker and Houlihan gave at today’s Code of Conduct meeting. They were not part of Cull’s council so why would they lie? Nor was Radich. The idea that the whole present Council is against Vandervis and trying to shut him up is IMO simply not true and, at worst, a delusion.

Thanks for your reply. I just want to make it clear to you and others that I am not trying to defend Vandervis or his actions. How could I? I don't know him and I didn't witness the incident. I have no reason to disbelieve any of the councillors, including Vandervis. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am not ready to condem the man or assume he has mental health problems based upon what I have seen written so far and from what I have personally witnessed. It will be interesting to see what he does next though!

Pat: Watch the whole meeting video - from the adjournment at 1.30 pm.

By the way if you ever reply to one of my comments again please do not misquote me. If you read my original comment you will see I did not write or even imply the things you wrote. This is very unfair of you.

I don't believe for a minute that Garey thought that Vandervis was physically going to attack her! Total rubbish! If she was shocked and intimidated by a little shouting she probably should get out of politics! If you are a member of the DCC, you should expect to be hollered at by your constituents given your lack of performance. This is a private matter that has been blown way out of proportion. People are not sympathetic to the dysfunctional behaviour and activities of the DCC. Vandervis is the only person on the council who is trying to bring some accountability and transparency to its governance. In short, I will vote for Vandervis because his honesty is more important to me than your feelings.

His misconduct allegations center on behaviour against woman. The DCC should pay for extensive counselling and support him with his issues. In most cases these behaviours are linked to childhood trauma.

I have continually responded to articles this newspaper has writtenvregarding snyone who speaks out agsinst this current council snd its hidden agendas and attempts hide the truth from the public and this newspaper continues to support them by blocking criticism. Far from independent

Totally agree. That's why we refer to them as the ministry of propaganda. 100% in step with the dimwits running the city. Will only publish weak dissent not too critical of the council. But will publish anything that paints the DCC in a positive light. Perfect example, the stupid bubbles on the street. It only cost $2500 dollars to paint them. Forget we didn't need them. It's only $2500 dollars. Not a lot but it's the mentality of justifying the wasted spending. It just goes on and on. We have a hapless cast of losers running the city and nobody cares. I hear you mate. The ODT dutifully behind the DCC to protect them. If I didn't have a parrot I wouldn't buy the paper. I just need something to line the bottom of the cage.

Some of Mr Vandervis's behaviour goes a bit far, but being disliked by council staff and most councillors is actually a positive attribute. Their continual bleating about not being spoken to nicely is extraordinarily precious.

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