Fiery Dunedin city councillor Lee Vandervis says he does not need help with anger management, but his colleagues have emphatically called on him to acknowledge his problem.
Councillor after councillor decried his behaviour when they debated yesterday whether he breached the Dunedin City Council's code of conduct by shouting at and pointing his finger in the face of deputy mayor Christine Garey after a meeting on July 28.
Vandervis was alone in justifying his actions.
Councillors presented a few arguments in his favour, but they were united in calling on the combative councillor to control his aggression.
A couple of them suggested he seek professional help.
Formally, Vandervis has been asked to apologise unreservedly, in writing and publicly, for aggressive and intimidating behaviour, or be stripped of two committee roles.
He remained defiant yesterday and seemed to smirk at times, but some of his barbs caused members of the public gallery to gasp in disbelief.
"My problem is not anger management, but council mismanagement and misrepresentation," Vandervis said in a statement after yesterday's meeting.
His July outburst resulted in councillors Garey, Steve Walker and Marie Laufiso laying formal complaints.
Garey had said she feared Vandervis was so out of control he might strike her.
Walker intervened and stood between them.
Independent investigator Steph Dyhrberg found Vandervis behaved "aggressively, discourteously and in a manner anyone would have found intimidating".
If an acceptable apology is not delivered by Tuesday next week, the council will revoke Vandervis' membership of the Otago Museum Trust board and district licensing committee.
Garey said in a statement after the meeting no one - neither staff nor elected members - should feel unsafe or fearful at work.
"Women, in particular, have been targeted for far too long in this way and it has to stop," she said.
"I thank my colleagues for their definitive and emphatic response with the tools they currently have available to them.
"The wider issue is that there are limited tools within local government to deal with such extreme behaviour."
Councillor Chris Staynes said he expected abusive or aggressive conduct in the private sector would usually result in a formal written or final warning and, for multiple incidents, dismissal.
Councillors, however, were elected and the organisation had a "limited range" of options.
Councillor David Benson-Pope likened Vandervis' conduct to that of an angry rugby player screaming at a referee.
"The worst thing is you continue to be in denial," Benson-Pope said.
Mayor Aaron Hawkins said Vandervis was a recidivist and his conduct was embarrassing.
In evaluating possible penalties, councillors were "not left with much to choose from".
He compared the councillor's conduct to that of his young son, who tended to feel aggrieved when called out.
"That's exactly what you would expect from a 4-year-old, not a 64-year-old, or thereabouts."
Councillor Sophie Barker said professional, courteous conduct was needed in the workplace.
"It is completely unacceptable to bail someone up and shout at them."
Councillor Carmen Houlahan said she regularly agreed with Vandervis, but she had seen him lose his temper numerous times.
Councillor Jules Radich said he was not far from the incident and did not hear screaming and yelling.
He could see how Vandervis would be frustrated about having a point of order "dismissed out of hand", but that did not excuse his subsequent conduct.
Vandervis told councillors he did not recognise the investigator, her report, or the code of conduct process.
"The reason I raised my voice to deputy [mayor] Garey was that she refused to listen to my description of what my point of order actually was and she cut across my initially conversational tone with the false accusation that I was 'just having a go'."
Vandervis fired a series of barbs at Garey and other elected members. He withdrew a comment about the deputy mayor's make-up.
He rejected the accusation he pointed his finger in "stabbing motions" at Garey, or that he screamed and yelled.
Vandervis said complaining to Garey verbally was a mistake and he also made a mistake in raising his voice.
"I sincerely apologised for both of these mistakes ... My undertaking in that apology to make all my future non-public complaints in writing should ensure that there is no further opportunity for such unpleasantness."
Councillors had previously labelled this apology weak and pathetic.
The story so far
2012: Dunedin City Council begins confidential file on Cr Lee Vandervis.
Late 2014-early 2015: Code of conduct complaints (bullying, aggressive and misleading behaviour) are upheld. Vandervis storms out of meeting to discuss his punishment, given 24 hours to offer a "genuine" apology for his behaviour or be stripped of his voting rights. Apology considered insufficient, he is suspended from voting at all council committees for two months.
2017: Mayor Dave Cull pays Vandervis $50,000 in defamation case following a heated exchange during a council meeting in 2015, when Vandervis claimed to have paid a backhander to secure a council contract in the 1980s. Cull called him a "liar" and ejected him from the meeting after he suggested he had given Cull "personal evidence" to back his claim.
2020: Vandervis file released after complaint to ombudsman. It details 27 recorded incidents, including standing over, bullying, implying incompetence and corruption, shouting at, berating, intimidating, denigrating, swearing at council staff.
- Additional reporting by Emma Perry