Call to fire CEO, hold election

SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 10:09 02/02/2012
Daniel Tobin

Thousands of disgruntled people turned out to protest the performance of the Christchurch City Council.

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Local Government Minister Nick Smith says there will not be early elections in Christchurch.

At least 2000 people attended a protest calling for mid-term elections and the removal of city council chief executive Tony Marryatt and Mayor Bob Parker in central Christchurch yesterday afternoon.

Speaking on Radio New Zealand this morning, Smith said early elections were not necessary as he was confident the appointment of former Nelson mayor Kerry Marshall as a Crown observer to oversee the council would fix its issues.

Marshall will be allowed to attend council and committee meetings and offer assistance to the mayor and councillors.

He will provide regular reports to the Government.

Smith said Marshall, who started on Monday, needed to be given a chance to help the council before any further action was taken.

If the council went into a ''meltdown'', the Government would ''reluctantly'' step in, he told Radio New Zealand.

However, as there was a lot of unrest in Christchurch, the need for the council to ''address its issues'' was pressing, he said.

Marshall would remain in the role until at least the end of March, and could stay on until July 1 if that was deemed necessary.

Call for a new recovery manager at council

Also speaking on Morning Report today, Christchurch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel said she did not support mid-term council elections as they would take the focus and momentum away from the community.

However, she said the council needed to recognise that everything was not business as usual by appointing a recovery manager.

''Take that role away from the chief executive,'' she said.

''Let him do 'business as usual' and have a recovery manager that can engage with the government agencies and with the community and with the business investors that we need to regrow out city.''

The council was holding discussions behind closed doors, had poor communication and was not engaging the community, and there was a lack of leadership, she said.

''And guess what? We have all of them in spades.''

Dalziel said the Government needed to clarify the role of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority as there was a lot of ''ambiguity'' over its role.

Early elections too time-consuming

Central Christchurch National MP Nicky Wagner said she had never seen the people in Christchurch so upset and angry.

If Marryatt was fired, it could lead to a raft of employment issues, and an early election would be ''very time-consuming'', she said.

The MPs were asked what they thought of Parker's decision to take a two-week tour of Asia less than a fortnight after Marshall was appointed to monitor the city council.

Wagner said Parker's decision to go overseas was his own to make, but Dalziel disagreed.

''If I was in his position, I personally wouldn't go,'' she said.

Dalziel suggested another senior Canterbury MP be sent in his place.

Parker said Smith and city councillors supported him going on the trip.

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The protest made no impact on his decision to go, he said. "They want action I think is unlikely to be delivered."

Parker and wife Jo Nicholls-Parker will leave next Tuesday for a tour of several Asian countries, including China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

The trip has been organised by Christchurch International Airport to encourage more airlines to visit the city.

The organisers of a mass protest against the city council will take further action, including a potential rates revolt, if changes are not made at the troubled organisation.

Government given two weeks to respond to demands

Yesterday, protest organiser Peter Lynch said the protesters would give the Government a fortnight to respond to their demands before making further plans.

If no changes were made, further rallies would be held, while there could be a partial "rates revolt" to show dissatisfaction with the council's performance, he said.

Smith ruled out dismissing Marryatt and said new elections were "highly unlikely".

Police were forced to close nearby streets as the protesters, many bearing homemade signs, spilled on to the road and chanted for the removal of Marryatt and Parker.

The protest was organised after the council announced in December that Marryatt had been awarded a $68,000 pay rise.

Organisers decided to continue with the protest after Marryatt turned down the pay rise last week, saying the issue had been the catalyst for broader concerns about the council's performance.

Lynch told the crowd that "urgent change" was needed at the council before it was too late for the city.

"Unless we are willing to challenge today what is broken in our democracy, you and I will see more obscene decisions being made by Parker and Marryatt."

The announcement of Marryatt's pay rise had been a "tipping point" for wider concerns about the council's poor performance and lack of transparency, Lynch said.

Prime Minister John Key and Smith needed to remove Marryatt from his role and hold fresh elections at the council for the good of the city, he said.

"We need a new mayor and councillors who understand that unless they have the trust and confidence of the people, there is no democracy," he said.

The Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network chairman, the Rev Mike Coleman, told protesters that Marryatt and Parker had "no understanding" of what residents had been through after the city's earthquakes.

Parker had done an "extremely good job" immediately after the quakes but had failed to unite the council and focus on the city's recovery.

"We need more than a PR person now,'' Coleman said.

"We need a leader who can unite the city, who can unite the council and who can move forward on the rebuild."

The city needed "good professional leadership with transparency", he said.

Smith said the turnout showed "a high level of both anger and concern" with the council's performance, exacerbated by high stress levels throughout the city.

Calls for the removal of Marryatt overlooked "basic employment law" protecting his position, Smith said.

While the Government could hold new elections, it was "highly unlikely" to take that approach.

The process would take a significant amount of time and affect the city's recovery, he said.

There was no guarantee that new elections would lead to the necessary "culture change" at the organisation.

If the appointment of  Marshall as a Crown observer did not resolve the issues at the council, the Government would most likely resort to appointing commissioners, Smith said.

Parker said councillors needed to "get our heads down" and focus on working together for the good of the city.

"We need to have a functioning, working council that gets on with the job."

Concerns about a lack of transparency at the council were a "misperception", he said.

"What decisions are they talking about? I don't believe it's a reality."

He was not concerned about a potential rates revolt, and said people who withheld their rates would face penalty fees.

"I don't think it's a very effective method of protest," he said.

HUMOUR PREVAILS

Janice Richard's placard blasted the message "Closed Doors Plus Cronyism = Corruption''.

The Waltham nurse said she was worried Christchurch was going down the gurgler.

"Bob is posing, Sutton is silent or been silenced and Marryatt has been a curse. It's time people found their anger," she said.

The crowd was a wide cross-section of people, evidenced by a parade of footwear, including shiny black shoes, workboots, running shoes, walkers and sandals.

Retired people and young mothers stood shoulder to shoulder with dignitaries such as Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Peter Townsend and former Christ Church Cathedral dean Peter Beck.

The Wizard reminded the crowd of the "old people" and got his audience chanting "Out! Out! Out! Town clerk! Town clerk! Town clerk!" (a hark back to the golden years before councils had chief executives) and "Election now! Election now!"

The Rev Mike Coleman, with a fresh haircut, was a rousing and rumbustious master of ceremonies - an old-school tub-thumper who knew his crowd and which buttons to push. Repent, resign and renew seemed to be his message.

"He [Tony Marryatt] says he has worked harder than any time in his life," he said as the crowd booed its support.

"I thought he needs to live in your house - no sewerage, no power, no work.

"They [the pay increases] got bigger and bigger and the mess and the arrogance got worse and worse.

"Bob Parker said there has been a mistake. There has been a mistake. What is going on with our city? What is going on with our leadership?

"Bob leaving on Saturday to go to Asia ... John Key, you need to realise Bob is laughing in your face [later it was "spitting in your face"].

"He has got no concern at all about sorting this out. You do not leave a council in absolute turmoil and head overseas for two weeks on a junket."

As a southerly blew the warm air out of the former St Elmo Courts site, people drifted home, but only after a vote of thanks for the police and St John, which provided a vehicle and paramedics to shadow the protest.

- The Press

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