$1.5m payout for Marryatt possible - expert

Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt could pocket up to $1.5 million if he is forced out of his job, an employment expert says.

Marryatt has come under fire since the council announced in December that it had granted him a $68,000 pay rise.

Organisers of a mass protest last week called for his removal, while Cr Tim Carter urged the Government to step in and replace him with an appointed commissioner, saying he had acted "as the 14th councillor".

However, an early departure could cost ratepayers dearly.

Employment relations consultant Mark McGinn said criticism of Marryatt's performance by councillors had made him a "lame duck".

While divisions in a board of directors over a chief executive's performance were normal, McGinn said, the attacks had "whipped up public sentiment" against Marryatt.

The public release of Marryatt's employment contracts and performance reviews was unusual. "If you look around the country and think about other prominent dismissals, nobody that I can think of has ever been exposed to what he has been exposed to."

McGinn said concerns about Marryatt's management style would not be enough to justify his dismissal, and councillors were ultimately responsible for making a decision based on his recommendations.

"You'd have to go way beyond some of the things the public are so angry about, like the Henderson properties and so forth,'' he said. ''Even if it is a poor management decision, it was nonetheless accepted by his employers."

If Marryatt resigned he would have a strong case for constructive dismissal, based on the effect of the criticism on his ability to do the role.

"He could say, `I'm just an employee, not a public figure, but you have gone out and diminished my reputation, and it's clear in doing so that you have made my position untenable'," McGinn said.

The council would have to pay out the remainder of Marryatt's current contract and his 2 1/2-year contract starting in May. He was likely to receive compensation for "distress and humiliation" and legal costs.

The Employment Relations Authority would also have to consider how the criticism had affected Marryatt's ability to secure work at another council when determining compensation, McGinn said.

Mayor Bob Parker said the council had not sought legal advice on the likelihood of a grievance case, but it was "generally known" it had been put at risk by councillors' comments.

"As far as personal grievances go, councillors publicly calling for the Government to replace the chief executive or being involved in a demonstration ... are effectively the most dangerous things you could do."

However, Marryatt had told him he was prepared to continue in the role.

"He has told me that the job is very important to him, that it matters, and that he derives a great deal of professional pleasure from his work ... He's not ... talking about a personal grievance."

Parker did not believe the situation was beyond repair, and said councillors needed to commit to working professionally with Marryatt.

"You don't have to like someone or agree with them to have a perfectly appropriate working relationship, I'm sure we all understand that," he said.

Councillors were currently working on a charter that would establish "bottom lines" for professional behaviour between elected members and staff, he said.

Canterbury