The acrimonious relationship between Dunedin City councillor Lee Vandervis and mayor Dave Cull continues with Cull being served legal papers on a Dunedin Street yesterday in defamation proceedings.
This is a further sign of the degree of dysfunction in the Dunedin council.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is vowing to defend a $500,000 defamation claim, after being served with legal papers while walking down the street yesterday.
Mr Cull was handed the documents by private investigator Wayne Idour near the corner of Bath and lower Stuart Sts yesterday morning.
The documents related to a defamation claim filed against him in the High Court at Dunedin by Cr Lee Vandervis earlier this month.
Mr Cull and Cr Vandervis were both reluctant to comment in detail when contacted, but both expressed regret the step had been taken.
But one or the other must have not been reluctant to go to the media over the serving of papers, unless a reporter just happened to have witnessed it. It’s likely that someone went public deliberately.
Mr Idour said when contacted he had planned to serve the papers on Mr Cull in the council’s Civic Centre building, but had seen the mayor passing by while sitting in Sugar Cafe.
“I was in there, having a coffee and talking, where I go most mornings, and he was walking rather fast down Stuart St. I saw him and shot out.
“I just took the time to explain what they were and handed them discreetly to him. He looked a wee bit shocked.”
Mr Idour said he was acting as “process server”, under a barrister’s instructions, and not working for Cr Vandervis.
Just a chance serving is possible but seems a bit unlikely. Serving the papers in public and then the media finding out seems a bit suspicious to me.
The serving of legal papers was followed last night by Cr Vandervis’ decision to release a copy of his statement of claim to media.
The document confirmed Cr Vandervis was seeking $250,000 in “general damages” and another $250,000 in “exemplary damages”, plus costs.
The claim followed a heated exchange during a Dunedin City Council meeting last year, when Cr Vandervis claimed to have paid a backhander to secure a council contract in the 1980s.
He was labelled “a liar” by Mr Cull and ejected from the meeting after suggesting he had given Mr Cull “personal evidence” to back his claim.
In May, both men claimed a report by internal auditor Crowe Horwath, examining the backhander claims, backed their positions.
Cr Vandervis then threatened to “double the damages” after Mr Cull stood by calling him a liar in the wake of the report.
And this is where it has ended up, serving papers in public.
The ODT understands the council had insurance to protect ratepayers from the cost of claims against elected representatives in their council duties, although it was not yet clear if a claim resulting from Mr Cull’s comments would be covered.
Ratepayers could still be left to pick up the bill for associated costs, including legal bills, should Mr Cull lose, the ODT understands.
Ratepayers pay in two ways – picking up some of the bill for this spat, and continuing to have a dysfunctional and acrimonious council.
Both Cull and Vandervis have indicated they will be standing for mayor and for council again this year.
But this reflects very poorly on both of them and on the Dunedin City Council.
I think that this obvious and ongoing inability to work together raises serious doubts about the suitability of either for serving the public on council in either capacity.
It’s time voters looked for elected representatives who don’t allow personal animosities to dominate their work for council and for Dunedin.