Pay rises in the Garden (city) of good & evil

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.