Swearing, spraying saliva and shouting: Incidents involving councillor released

Lee Vandervis
Lee Vandervis
A file of incidents involving Cr Lee Vandervis includes claims of swearing, bullying and spraying saliva.

Last 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.

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.

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.

Cr Vandervis rejected the file as "manufactured rubbish".

He 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?"

Councillor Lee Vandervis "sits out" a council meeting while a motion to have him censured is...
Councillor Lee Vandervis "sits out" a council meeting while a motion to have him censured is heard last year. Photo: ODT files

The full incident file

 

Incidents recorded in 2012

Description: Shouting at staff member

Process and actions taken: Incident logged and offered support.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: General manager discussed behaviour with Cr Vandervis

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Description: Threatening staff employment security if elected mayor

Process and actions taken: Incident logged and offered support.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: General manager discussed behaviour with Cr Vandervis

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Incidents recorded in 2013

Description: Bullying - in public in council meeting.

Process and actions taken: Incident logged and offered support. Encrypted Health and Safety Incident record begun

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Mayor informed, for tighter control at meetings

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Incidents recorded in 2014

Description: Bullying, overtalking, implying not doing job - in council meeting.

Process and actions taken: Incident logged.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Mayor told, and talked to Councillor about his behaviour.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Description: Threatening to publicly humiliate staff through the media.

Process and actions taken: Email sighted.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken Chief executive officer spoke to councillor about intimidating, threatening staff, and the power differential.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

Description: Bullying and denigrating staff, publicly questioning competence - at council meeting.

Process and actions taken: General Manager of department asked to sit up front and present reports from that department at Council.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken Councillors stepped in and told him his behaviour was unacceptable

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Incidents recorded in 2015

Description: Shouting and berating seated staff member while leaning over him

Process and actions taken: Incident logged.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken Staff member requested no action be taken

Gender of staff member/s involved:  Male

Description:  Shouting, accusing one staff member and then all staff of a department of corruption - at meeting 

Process and actions taken: Incident logged. 

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken Chief executive told Councillor at meeting his behaviour was unacceptable.  CEO asked by email afterwards for any evidence of his unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

Description: Displayed aggressive behaviour at staff member - at Council meeting

Process and actions taken: Incident logged, staff spoken with.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken CEO issued Councillor verbal warning about yelling and aggression towards staff.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Description: Shouting, yelling, spraying saliva and swearing and aggression - prior to council meeting

Process and actions taken: Formal Code of Conduct Complaint.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken Councillor ordered to apologise following code of conduct proceedings. Gave "apology for hallway loudness" and then censured by council.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Councillor Lee Vandervis walking out of a meeting where fellow councillors discussed his code of...
Councillor Lee Vandervis walking out of a meeting where fellow councillors discussed his code of conduct breach. Photo: ODT files

Description: Shouted at person, alleged corruption without evidence

Process and actions taken: Formal Code of Conduct Complaint In Code of Conduct process along with above incident.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Description: Was rude to staff member prior to meeting. Generic complaint about councillor's treatment of staff, especially females.

Process and actions taken: Incident logged, staff member told of discussions with councillor by CEO and Mayor.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken 

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Description: Staff fear of again being belittled and bullied, anxiety prior to Council meeting

Process and actions taken: General manager ordered to physically sit up front and present Council reports with staff in that area. Raised with Mayor. Chairs asked to more proactively shut down abuse. 

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken 

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Councillor Lee Vandervis speaks at a council meeting in 2017. Photo: ODT files
Councillor Lee Vandervis speaks at a council meeting in 2017. Photo: ODT files

Incidents recorded in 2016

Description: Media interview where Councillor publicly expressed desire for actions at meetings that would land him in jail.

Process and actions taken: None as the perceived threat may have been aimed at other Councillors rather than staff.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested no action be taken

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

Description: Concern raised about repeated intimidation and suggestions of staff ineptness in areas where he holds contrary opinion.

Process and actions taken: Chief executive raised with executive leadership team. Agreed to remove staff names from reports in 'risky' areas, due to risk of formal Health and Safety complaint.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO raised it with Chairs of committees (to more proactively stop it) and with the Councillor.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

Description: Raising voice, overbearing behaviour.

Process and actions taken: Incident logged.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO passed on her thanks to Mayor and Chairs for proactively trying to stop the behaviour.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female.

Description: Generic complaint about intimidating staff to point of tears.

Process and actions taken: Incident logged.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO passed on staff thanks to Mayor and Chairs for proactively trying to stop the behaviour.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female.

Description: Email to staff accusing of incompetence and threatening 'long term problem' for them.

Process and actions taken: Staff requested no complaint be laid. CEO and Mayor agreed and staff informed they could disregard the email and refuse to answer any further that had abusive content.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Councillor spoken to about rude tone, power imbalance between him and staff who cannot answer back, health and safety obligations

Gender of staff member/s involved: Three males

Incidents recorded in 2017

Description: Alleging many staff involved in corruption and fraud, cover-up by senior staff

Process and actions taken: All the people told this by the Councillor were rung by CEO to say it was untrue, and the allegations were made with no evidence to back them up.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Nil

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

Description: In email to wide audience, made accusations of staff having 'bent agendas', no backing evidence of corruption.

Process and actions taken: CEO replies to all email recipients pointing out the allegation is without any supporting evidence.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO emails entire group, Councillor told by to abide by Councillor Code of Conduct, treat staff with respect, and requests evidence of corruption is brought through fraud processes for investigation. Mayor also emails group, reminding Councillors that staff are not to be not to bullied.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

Incidents recorded in 2018

Description: Agitated and aggressive behaviour towards staff member.

Process and actions taken: Staff wanted record made for Health and Safety management purposes.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested none be taken.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Male

Description: Public abuse and denigration of staff, belittling, questioning competence, in meeting. No staff present to defend reputations.

Process and actions taken: Event logged. CEO suggested person write to Mayor with complaint. No complaint made.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Nil

Gender of staff member/s involved: Group

Incidents recorded in 2019

Description:Emailed wide group criticising a staff member's work, denigrating her performance.

Process and actions taken: CEO visited staff member who was distressed. Many emails received about same issue highly supportive of what she delivered.  Support provided

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO emailed all recipients, saying the email was an abuse of power and if Councillors have performance concerns they should come to the CEO/managers to deal with, not publicly criticise. Mayor also emailed saying the original email was insulting and reminding it is not Councillors' job to manage staff

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Description: Overtalks, swears at and shouts down three women in a meeting.

Process and actions taken: His inappropriate behaviour raised by the CEO at the meeting.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO raised his inappropriate behaviour at the meeting.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Three females

 

Description: At staff desk angry shouting, spraying saliva

Process and actions taken: Incident logged

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: Staff member requested none be taken

Gender of staff member/s involved: Male

Description: Email to wide audience accusing staff member of ignorance, making a false claim, misrepresenting.

Process and actions taken: Executive leadership team adopts 'email quarantine policy' whereby people who abuse staff by email can have their emails 'quarantined' and lose ability to email staff. Councillors adopt policy.

Action taken with Cr Vandervis: CEO emailed all, reminding Councillor he has no role in managing or disciplining staff, his emails are bullying and abusive. Risk of Health and Safety act breach raised again. Noting this is one of several emails to him warning him about possible consequences of his behaviour.

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

Description: In email accuses CEO of blocking a report, not replying to LGOIMAs, creating dysfunction

Process and actions taken: Incident logged

Gender of staff member/s involved: Female

 

 

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