Marryatt defends $68,000 pay rise

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 05:00 05/01/2012
Tony Marryatt
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
CASUAL APPROACH: Christchurch City Council CEO Tony Marryatt back at work yesterday, but still in holiday mode after his break on the Gold Coast.

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The Christchurch City Council's controversial chief executive has defended his $68,000 pay rise, saying it is recognition of his performance during a year in which he has "never worked as hard in my life".

Tony Marryatt rejected calls to refuse the 14.4 per cent pay rise, saying it was a reflection of his performance and the market rate for his job.

"I am not refusing the pay offer and I am not giving it to charity. That is on the principle that I feel I should be paid the market remuneration for the job and what is appropriate for my level of performance. That is how I treat people in this organisation and that has been my philosophy in 30 years," he said.

Marryatt was speaking publicly for the first time since his pay rise was announced on December 18, taking his remuneration from $470,400 to $538,529 a year, effective from July 1, 2011. The increase has prompted public outrage, a barrage of critical letters to The Press and a protest at council headquarters.

Marryatt returned to work in jandals and shorts yesterday after two weeks leave. He defended criticism of his decision not to return from his Gold Coast holiday after the December 23 earthquakes.

"Where were those people when after February I didn't take a weekend off for nine weeks. I have worked exceedingly hard this year. I have never worked as hard in my life. I was stuffed. I needed a break.

"My answer to those people is when I needed to be here I was here, especially after February," he said.

Marryatt said he did not need to return after December 23 as he was receiving situation reports by email in Australia.

He also had an emergency team of senior staff in place to respond.

"I had told my family I was probably going to come back, but after reading three or four situation reports, I made the decision that there was no need. That would have been four or five hours into the event ... It wasn't like February. It was under control.

"I spoke to [senior staff] and the mayor and they both assured me that if they thought I was needed they would have rung me."

Asked whether he should accept the increase after such a tough year for many Christchurch residents, Marryatt said his job was more important than ever.

"I would say there is a case for the exact opposite. My job has grown immensely. The market remuneration we are talking about is not for my new job, it is for my old job. It is for what the council was in September 2010. The benefit is for the city if they have a motivated and high-performing CEO," he said.

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He would have considered his position in Christchurch if the pay rise had not been approved by councillors.

"It would have depended how council framed it. I feel I should be paid fair remuneration for the position and if the council had said, `Here is the market remuneration, but your performance has dropped so we are going to pay you like this', I would have said, `Fine, how do I improve my performance?' If they had just said, `Here is what you are performing at, but politically we are going to pay you this.' That would have put me in a position of saying, `Is that how a good employer should operate?' That would have got me thinking," he said.

"But I would have come back to ... why did I apply for a contract extension and why am I still here now?"

"I'm here because we have a really good organisation and a really good team and we have a job to do. I want to be part of the rebuild of this city. In a roundabout way I would have still stayed here because of the job that I have to do. I would have stayed because I have a career in local government because I want to make a difference. I really want to help shape the city. That is what the role is in the next few years. It's exciting and I am here to play my part."

Departing Christ Church Cathedral dean and city council hopeful Peter Beck's call for him to refuse the pay rise was motivated by politics, he said.

"I think one candidate in a by-election seemed to make an election issue out of it. That was part of it ... It's a by-election and he chose to make it an issue. I don't know if he would have commented the way he did if there wasn't an election."

Marryatt had expected the pay rise to cause controversy.

"I didn't expect everybody to jump up and say it was great. From my point of view my employer has said, 'That is how you have performed, that is where the market is at and that is what we will pay you.'

"Any time I have a pay increase there is always negative comment because for most people what I earn is an exorbitant salary and any percentage increase on an already-large salary gets to a sizeable amount. I earn more than the average wage and I accept that. I have a bigger job than the average job. We have 3000 staff and a $1billion-a-year budget. We are trying to keep the city running and manage a recovery. I don't think we are doing too bad."

Angry reaction to the pay rise may have been due to earthquake-related stress, he said.

"This has not been an enjoyable year for us. We are not sleeping. We are all working harder. Our houses are bloody stuffed and we don't know when our houses are going to be fixed. I often say in this last year I have said things I used to just think. I think this whole city is under stress and I accept that it has upset a number of people."

The criticism was sometimes unfair and could be unhelpful, he said.

"Everybody has a right to criticise and that is free speech. I am used to being criticised. I don't like it. I have a family that read the paper and I've got a family that don't like seeing their dad attacked, sometimes they would think unfairly, sometimes I would think unfairly."

"A lot of comment is based on no fact whatsoever or is completely incorrect. I am the CEO of council and it goes with the job ... When you attack me you are attacking the organisation and this organisation is under pressure because we have staff resigning and staff that have left Christchurch and our job has doubled."

Marryatt said he was committed to Christchurch, even though his wife and three of his four children live in Hamilton. His wife has a retail business in Hamilton that she had tried but struggled to run from Christchurch, so she had returned to Hamilton, where two of their children were studying at Waikato University.

"We get together at least two weekends a month. I am either up there or she is down here. I am still here and own two properties in Christchurch and both of them are damaged.

"When my wife is not here, the council get far better value out of me, because all I do is work.

"I still do the same amount of work at the weekends whether I am here or in Hamilton. I fly up at 6.20pm on Friday and land back here at 8.35 on Monday morning."

Councillors voted for the pay rise in private on Thursday, December 15, and decided to disclose the news on the next Monday so it did not clash with the adoption of the central city plan. The news was made public on Sunday after it was leaked to The Press.

"It was because we didn't want to deflect from something that I'm really proud of, which is the central city plan adoption. That was the call. We weren't going to keep it secret. It was a very conscious decision.

"The most important thing for council at that stage was the central city plan and we wanted that to be the news. You could criticise us for that, but we had two pieces of news and we decided the central city plan was the one we wanted to release."

The council set his new pay after a consultant assessed the market rate for his position and his performance was reviewed against targets set every year.

"My view is the same with all staff, I pay staff market rate for the position and they get somewhere on that scale based on their performance.

"That's what I want from council, that I get fair money for the job and I get recognised if my performance is seen to be above average."

- The Press

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