Christchurch councillors put on notice

SAM SACHDEVA AND BEN HEATHER
Last updated 17:43 27/01/2012
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MEETING: Canterbury Earthquake Recovery minister Gerry Brownlee and Local Government minister Nick Smith arrive for the council meeting today.

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Tony Marryatt

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The Government has appointed a Crown observer to oversee work at the Christchurch City Council and get the troubled organisation back on track.

Local Government Minister Nick Smith said councillors had "weeks, not months" to sort out their issues and focus on the city's recovery.

The news came as council chief executive Tony Marryatt announced he would decline a controversial $68,000 pay rise.

Smith and Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee met councillors behind closed doors to discuss concerns about the council's performance this afternoon.

The council has come under fire after several public blunders, while Marryatt's pay rise had angered many residents.

After the meeting, Smith announced the Government had decided to appoint former Local Government New Zealand chairman Kerry Marshall as a Crown observer to assist the council.

Marshall would provide advice to Mayor Bob Parker, councillors and Marryatt, and would report back to Smith when necessary.

He would remain in place until at least the end of March and could potentially remain in the role until July 1.

Smith said the appointment, which was a lower level of intervention than the "nuclear option" of appointing commissioners, was necessary to get the council back on track.

"Never in the 150-year history of Christchurch has it been so important for its council to function well," he said.

The Government was "very reluctant" to appoint commissioners, but could not rule out taking further action if the problems were not resolved.

"The council has weeks, not months, to get these issues resolved, the people of Christchurch can't wait."

Parker said councillors had unanimously supported the Government's decision and wanted to resolve their problems as soon as possible.

"There is not a person around the council table who does not believe in the future of this city, and who doesn't want to play a great role in the work that we have to do."

Parker said councillors would meet Marshall at a meeting next week.

PAYRISE REJECTED

Controversial Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt said he instructed the council's payroll office to stop paying him his $68,000 salary increase from today.

In a media statement released this afternoon, Marryatt said his decision was based on "what's best for the council and its staff". 

"The negative publicity and public opinion has been tough for staff at the organisation and has the potential to distract this council from the very important task at hand of rebuilding our city," he said.

"I want to show my commitment to Christchurch, to the council and to all our staff. I want to lead our team through the rebuild. The councillors said today they would work together collegially. If they can be true to this commitment, I will make a similar commitment in the same spirit of good faith and will give back any increase I've received to date," he said.

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"Now they have found a way forward I really want elected members and our staff to be working together as one team. There has been a lot of public opinion against the council's decision to increase my salary. I don't want the issue around my pay to affect the rebuild of this great city."

MEETING UNDER WAY

A "critical" meeting between government ministers and Christchurch City councillors is under way.

Local Government Minister Nick Smith and Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee met councillors behind closed doors to discuss concerns about the council's performance.

The council has come under fire after several public blunders, and a $68,000 pay rise for chief executive Tony Marryatt has angered many residents.

Cr Tim Carter has urged the Government to oust Marryatt, and Cr Sue Wells said councillors could no longer work together and should be replaced with commissioners.

On his way into the council offices, Smith said the meeting was "critical" for councillors.

"This city now more than ever needs its council," he said.

Carter said he did not want to comment before the meeting but was "here to listen and hear what everyone has to say".

Cr Jamie Gough said he was optimistic about the meeting.

"We need to work together and make Christchurch as good as it could be."

Gough, who supported Marryatt's pay rise, said it was "Tony's call" whether to reject the increase.

Cr Helen Broughton said the council had been having problems since Christmas, but she did not believe it was dysfunctional.

'STOP SILLY BEHAVIOUR'

The Christchurch City Council needs to stop its "silly behaviour" and focus on the rebuild,  Brownlee says.

Before the meeting today, Brownlee told The Press councillors would be asked to commit to stopping the "nonsense" and instead focus on the recovery.

"I want to see the council stop this silly sort of behaviour and recognise we've got a heck of a challenge here and they are pivotal," he said.

He expected councillors to reconcile their differences.

Brownlee ruled out sacking Marryatt, calling it a "dumb solution" arising from "woolly thinking".

"The Government can't come along and sack someone and leave the council in place."

Brownlee would not comment on calls to sack the council.

"I'm not going to speculate beyond the meeting with council."

- The Press

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