Can Christchurch's council be saved?

00:49, Jan 25 2012

Christchurch City Council has had a torrid time of it recently, with most of it self-inflicted. They now seem on the brink of civil war, with one councillor calling for the CEO to be sacked and replaced with a commissioner and another councillor calling for the entire council to be sacked and replaced with a commissioner.

There have been decisions which that upset people, such as the request for a burial fee to families of earthquake victims, after they were told there would be none.

But the pay rise granted to the CEO seems to be the issue that has generated the most heat. Unfortunately for the council it is the one issue they cannot fix. Once an employment contract has been signed, there is no legal way to require the CEO to accept a lower salary. The council cannot legally cancel the payrise. Only if the CEO voluntarily agreed to go back to his old salary could it happen. And it is hard to see what motivation he would have to do so.

This is far from the only issue confronting the council. Some councillors are accused of leaking confidential matters. Others accuse the mayor and CEO of being dictatorial.

Now all local bodies have a share of infighting, as we are dealing in the main with politicians. But the degree of infighting at the Christchurch council seems much higher than in most places, and the timing is unfortunate as it distracts councillors and staff from the earthquake recovery.

Is there a cure for the council's woes? There will of course be elections in 21 months' time in October 2013. That will give the citizens of Christchurch the opportunity to vote out those they consider responsible for the problems. Of course they may also just re-elect the incumbents under the ward structure the council has. I imagine we will see Lianne Dalziel stand for mayor against Bob Parker (if he stands again).

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But can it wait 21 months to be fixed? Will the infighting interfere too much with the earthquake recovery, or does it not matter as CERA has the lead role in that?

Is a commissioner the answer? If so, would you use the same commissioners as with ECan and for the next 21 months run ECan, the CCC and even CERA as one combined entity? That would mean there would no longer be any territorial disputes over responsibilities. However, it would mean no elected representation until the end of 2013.

What do you think is the answer? Do you think the council can right itself? Do you think the only solution is to wait for the October 2013 elections, or is a commissioner warranted? Or perhaps, should the local body elections for Christchurch be brought forward to, say, March 2012, allowing residents to sack or re-elect the incumbents? Is an election campaign though what the city needs now?

David Farrar is a centre-right blogger affiliated to the National Party. His disclosure statement is here.