16 Mar 2015

Councillor accused of unprofessional behaviour

4:26 pm on 16 March 2015

A code of conduct hearing against a Dunedin city councillor has heard he was aggressive and bullying to staff and independent professionals.

Dunedin City Council Civic Centre.

Dunedin City Council Civic Centre. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The three complaints against Lee Vandervis were aired this morning at a hearing at the city council offices.

The complaints are being heard by a three-person Code of Conduct committee chaired by Otago University law professor Stuart Anderson.

Intimidating and abusive

Two councillors, Richard Thomson and Chris Staynes, complained about two incidents at a closed-door meeting of the council's audit and risk subcommittee last December.

They said first Mr Vandervis unprofessionally criticised the police investigation into fraud at the council's Citifleet department to an external auditor based on information which he knew to be false.

Lee Vandervis

Lee Vandervis Photo: Dunedin City Council

Mr Vandervis was not a member of the committee, but attended all its meetings in his capacity as councillor.

The councillors said later in the meeting Mr Vandervis yelled abusively at the committee's independent chairperson, Susie Johnston, from across the meeting room, after he was angered by her stopping discussion of a report he had spent hours reading.

They both said Mr Vandervis started yelling while sitting down, then got to his feet and continued before storming out of the meeting.

They described the behaviour as intimidating and abusive.

Mayor Dave Cull largely agreed with their descriptions.

Another independent member of the committee lawyer Janet Copeland said Mr Vandervis's behaviour was completely unnecessary and extremely unprofessional.

Councillor Kate Wilson also laid a complaint, about Mr Vandervis's behaviour in a hallway outside a council meeting last month (in February).

She described how Mr Vandervis yelled in a hallway at the council's chief executive. Sue Bidrose, in an aggressive way she found frightening.

Other councillors who witnessed the incident, agreed they heard Mr Vandervis yelling, and were worried the situation might be unsafe for the staff.

They said they went to see Dr Bidrose afterwards to check she was okay.

Dr Bidrose also gave evidence about her experience, but the public and media were excluded by the committee, on grounds of privacy for council staff.

Lee Vandervis refuses to respond

Mr Vandervis defended his criticism of the Citifleet investigation, saying he sincerely believed it at the time, and had good reason to question to question the police and council's roles given past experience.

But he refused to respond to the charge of aggressive behaviour, and left, saying he would not be ambushed by verbal evidence.

The committee is writing a report on the incidents, which is expected to be discussed at a council meeting in two weeks' time.

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