Chrischurch City Council CEO Tony Maryatt gets a 14% pay rise to $540,000 when people are still using toilets in the street? Where's the spirit of the blitz? Because true leadership speaks of sacrifice

From a distance, Canterbury politics look as swampy as the land the city is built on. Environment Canterbury argued for so many years about a plan for its own water supply that it was taken over by government. Now, Christchurch City Council's incredibly clumsy support for a pay rise for its CEO is prompting complaints about dysfunction and disunity.

The last thing the government wants is to march in a replace a second elected council with commissioners – to remove democracy once can look strong if people are convinced the problems are sufficiently intractable; to do it twice looks power-hungry. Instead, when Local Government Minister Nick Smith talks to councillors tomorrow I'm sure it will be to tell them to stop bitching at each other and look out at the needs of their broken city and its people.

Yet what Smith must remember is that unity isn't the be-all and end-all.

Councillors are elected to represent a range of views. It's all very well to go on about pulling together, cohesion and the like, but a functional council should be arguing, dissenting and learning from each other, not just towing the line in the interests of quick progress. Better to get it right after debate than get it done quickly but poorly in a fit of well-intentioned "unity".

After so many months of earthquakes, it's difficult times down there and will be for some, but that's no reason to suspend all critical thinking.

And some criticism of Tony Maryatt's pay rise is certainly worth the effort. The decision to increase the CEO's salary by $68,000 – from $470,000 p.a. to $540,000 – is poor politically, psychologically, economically and, crucially, in terms of civic leadership.

I don't know the internal politics at play; perhaps Maryatt is a genius, perhaps he's being played by enemies with a less than public-minded agenda. Regardless of all that, there's only one decision that can possibly be made, only one decision that should ever have been made.

No pay rise. Not 14 percent, not anything above inflation. It's just the good and proper thing to do. It's called leadership.

As Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee likes to remind us, Christchurch is still in the midst of an ongoing seismic event. This ain't over. It's too soon to repair all the sewers, it's too soon to have all the claims sorted, and it's too soon to talk of rebuilding. So it's certainly too soon to start putting up pay.

Not mention that the global economy has been weak to catastrophic for the past four years and people around the world thank their lucky stars they have a job these days.

Where's Occupy Christchurch when you need them? Talk about the out-of-touch 1%!

It's like voting the London CEO a pay rise just before Christmas 1940 in the middle of the blitz. Or like the captain of that cruise ship in Italy getting off before the last passenger. It speaks of self-interest and greed rather than service, sending entirely the wrong signal.

When you've still got people dragging themselves out to loos in the street and people paying rates for houses they can't live in, money and attention should not be going to the CEO's wallet.

The emphasis should still be on shared sacrifice. That's the message Christchurch's leaders must be sending and signalling in all they do. Think back to the memorial service last year and Bob Parker's own speech in praise of the "selfless" people of Christchurch and of honouring the lost. Those words need to have roots in every action the council takes.

Echoing the spirit of the Student Volunteer Army, the message of the city's leaders should be they are willing to take the trials and tribulations alongside the people they serve. If that's not the CEO's key concern, he should go work in the private sector. And you know what? If the people you serve aren't the key concern of any private sector CEO, I wouldn't hold out much hope for any business he runs either.

Today, Parker has been digging a deeper hole for himself and his key manager by suggesting that Maryatt will now reconsider the raise if the council commits to greater unity.

"I think he's definitely saying I want to see an outcome, I want to see real commitment from the council to work together cohesively and respectfully," said Parker.

Who the jiggetty does Maryatt think he is? He's a servant of the council, not its nanny or conscience.

The way Parker has framed it almost sounds like blackmail – I'll let go the money, but only if you tow the line. Again, the takeaway message is all wrong.

The council is now talking of releasing the advice it received before it voted for the raise, and even Maryatt's performance review. Given that it's been more than 24 working days since the vote, I'm amazed an OIA request hasn't forced some of that into the public arena already. But releasing the performance review of an unelected manager may be a step too far.

Still, the advice, while interesting and informative, is ultimately irrelevant. Whatever the advice, the opportunity was there for Maryatt and the council to put sacrifice ahead of money, to show they understood what leadership means in a time of trial. It's not like they haven't risen to the task before.

But this is an epic fail and one that should be corrected and apologised for promptly, so the council can get back to arguing about more substantial issues.

Comments (7)

by Ian MacKay on January 26, 2012
Ian MacKay

John Campbell interviewed Mr Parker tonight (Thursday) and for the first time Parker seemed ill at ease and his usual remarks given through a fixed grin (grimace?) seemed unconvincing. Reckon his private polling is giving him a thrashing.

by Frank Macskasy on January 27, 2012
Frank Macskasy

There's not a word I can add, Tim, except that I doubt if this is what John Key had in mind in 2008 when he pledged to raise wages to match our Aussie cuzzies...

by Tim Watkin on January 27, 2012
Tim Watkin

Parker was on Campbell and Close Up and I think your description, Ian, is fair for both appearances. He's obviously furious, but trying to rein it in and seem reasonable. But the fact is he's on the wrong side of this one and it's damaged him.

by Darel Hall on January 27, 2012
Darel Hall

As Council annual reports show, Tony Marryatt signed on with the Council in May 2007 for a total remuneration package of $370,000. This has now jumped in the order of 50% to a salary of $538,529 plus whatever contributions to superannuation, bonuses, vehicle, and sundry P-card expenses he receives.

At this rate he will receive around $750,000 pro rata salary for the final six months of his extended contract. As he leaves his superannuation contributions, contract severance payments, and buy out of accumulated leave will provide a reasonably hefty additional payment.

By comparison the Statistics NZ Labour Cost Index for local government labour costs shows an increase of 12% during the same 4 year period. It is more likely that the LCI will not increase at the same rate for the remainder of Mr Marryatt’s tenure – ordinary workers will continue on as normal.

Remuneration expectations would have been discussed during the interview process for the Mr Marryatt’s extended contract. A question that needs to be asked is whether the Council took the opportunity to dampen down expectations of salary increases in line with the general hardship felt in our country or does the increase accurately reflect discussion at the time?

Unfortunately I think the answer is clear. The latest $68,000 increase does not reflect particular performance or hard work; it is simply part of a pattern of higher salaries inflation over a number of years both in the case of Tony Marryattt and more generally for the very high paid.

by DeepRed on January 27, 2012

And given Marryatt's previous role in the Hamilton V8 debacle, it's safe to assume old boys' networking has a lot to do with it.


by Tim Watkin on January 27, 2012
Tim Watkin

Darrell, that's a whopping, massive increase through a recession and major disaster. Thanks for the info, it only adds to the point that this is an appalling lack of judgment and worthy of council (minority) and public anger. So out of whack with what the rest of us are going through.

And now news that he;s not taking it after all.


by danniel on April 02, 2013

When they work with power and money the temptation is quite to rise their pay is pretty high. I don't see the fundaments for this rise, what happened with solidarity? I guess for some people negotiating a salary is not such a difficult thing to do after all.

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