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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?