Christchurch councillors didn't know about leave

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 10/11/2012

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Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt's decision to grant council staff 11 days' extra paid leave without telling councillors has landed him in hot water with his employers.

Some councillors have interpreted Marryatt's actions as a breach of their no-surprises policy and intend lodging a formal complaint with the council panel charged with monitoring his performance and determining his salary.

"He appears to have breached the no-surprises policy, but not only that, it's a significant policy issue that has huge financial ramifications. We should have known about it," Cr Tim Carter said yesterday.

The fact councillors were not informed until after staff had been told and the news had broken in the media, suggested lessons had not been learnt from the damning audit of council communications this year.

One of the key failings identified in the audit - conducted at a cost to ratepayers of $80,000 - was the frequency that councillors read or heard about council information in the media or from third parties.

"They expected to be briefed about council matters before they were asked questions about issues by constituents and the news media," the audit found.

Marryatt promised to institute change, but there was no briefing for councillors on the extra paid leave allocation for staff, and most councillors learnt about it through The Press.

Council staff have been getting an extra day of paid leave each month for the past year in recognition of the stress they have been under since the earthquakes, and this has been extended for another 11 months at the instigation of Marryatt and his executive team.

Cr Yani Johanson, who heads the council committee responsible for overseeing communications, said he was "really disappointed" at Marryatt's handling of the matter.

Providing council staff with extra leave was a contentious issue and councillors at the very least should have been informed of the decision before its announcement, he said.

"In my view, it probably should have been a council decision because it must impact on the level of service and budgets," Johanson said.

"I can't understand why it wasn't brought before us."

Marryatt was unavailable for interviews yesterday but in a statement issued to The Press he said the decision to offer all staff additional leave days over the coming year was in recognition of the challenges presented by the quakes and the significant extra efforts that have been asked of them.

"There is still a lot of work ahead as we repair damaged buildings and infrastructure and look to rebuild our central city," he said.

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"We need staff to continue this work over the coming years. International post-disaster examples show that looking after our staff will mean we retain good people to continue the work ahead.

"Our organisation plays a vital role in the recovery and rebuild of our city. It is imperative that I have engaged and motivated staff during the years ahead."

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee yesterday stopped short of crictising Marryatt's decision but said most Christchurch residents had had to work longer hours in difficult circumstances over the past two years. "I don't think the pressures in the council are any greater than in other workplaces.

"There are people toiling away in other workplaces and yes, we want the council to be functioning, but I would have hoped the council would recognise the considerable efforts in so many other workplaces and follow a similar pattern."

The Southern Local Government Officers Union declined to comment on the extra leave.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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