Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt took ratepayer-funded legal action against city councillors several months after his controversial $68,000 pay rise late last year.
Marryatt filed a personal grievance against his employers, the elected council, on April 18, 2 months after 4000 people protested outside the civic headquarters and asked the Government to sack him.
Six out of the then 13 city councillors were also at the protest.
The grievance was settled before it went to the Employment Court.
Marryatt did not receive a settlement as a result of his claim but his legal costs were reimbursed by the council.
The Press understands those costs could be between $10,000 and $30,000.
It also understands that while the grievance case was made against the whole council, four councillors were singled out in the claim - Sally Buck, Tim Carter, Yani Johanson and Glenn Livingstone.
It is believed that public comments made after Marryatt's pay rise sparked the personal grievance claim, along with his concerns about those four councillors attending the February 1 rally.
Buck did not go to the protest but Crs Jimmy Chen, Helen Broughton and Aaron Keown did.
The council released a statement about the case to the media at 3.30pm yesterday after questions from The Press.
Telephoned earlier in the afternoon and asked about the legal action, Marryatt said: "I suggest you talk to the mayor [Bob Parker]".
"I will go and tell him to give you a call.
"There's a prepared statement he will give to you."
The Press understands the statement was prepared months ago.
Marryatt said he could not comment further, but hinted detractors might have tipped off The Press: "They've obviously decided it's the appropriate time to leak it".
The statement said the grievance was settled "in the interests of the city" by:
Marryatt confirming he was committed to the rebuild and to leading the council.
The council reaffirming its commitment to Marryatt as chief executive at "this critical time".
"The council values and respects Tony Marryatt's role . . . and recognises and appreciates the work he has put in over this critical time," it said.
Parker said the statement had been agreed on and he could not expand on it.
"Essentially I'm not allowed to step outside of that information because this is an employment issue," he said.
Buck, Carter, Johanson and Livingstone did not want to comment.
Marryatt took up a five-year term in May 2007 after 11 years as the Hamilton City Council boss.
After a fraught chief executive appointment process a year ago, in which Parker stood aside from discussions and Keown was taken unsuccessfully to the High Court to stop his involvement, Marryatt was given a new contract, but only until the end of 2014.
A week before Christmas, he was given a $68,129 pay rise backdated to July 1, taking his total salary to $538,529.
After a public outcry and a meeting with then local government minister Nick Smith and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee on January 27 - five days before the February protest - he turned down the future part of the increase.
He still has not returned about $26,000, which he said he would hang on to until councillors started working more effectively together.
At the end of January, Carter called for the Government to replace Marryatt, prompting warnings that such comments could lead Marryatt to take legal action against the council.
Parker said then that the council 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 and "he's not . . . talking about a personal grievance."
Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network spokesman Mike Coleman said the case showed just how willing Marryatt was to "hold the city to ransom''.
"He does not have his heart here. Each time he has had a chance to show he backs the people of this city he has failed,'' he said.
Christchurch public relations consultant David Lynch said he believed issues related to staff performance were responsible for the "wider systemic" problems at the council which resulted in Marryatt being publicly criticised.
Lynch said he wondered why the statement released by the council yesterday did not also acknowledge the "extensive time and effort'' that had been put into clarifying the roles of staff as well as the roles of councillors.
"I believe the communications audit identified this as an issue,'' he said.
Peter Lynch, who organised the February protest, said he was "completely and utterly gobsmacked and outraged'' by Marryatt's actions.
Marryatt should have put the matter "to bed'', rather than file a personal grievance case.
"He again is not thinking of the vast majority of the overworked, underpaid eastern suburbs residents.''
Lynch said he paid his rates bill at the civic headquarters yesterday, but "as a final symbolic gesture'' refused to pay this year's 7.5 per cent increase until Marryatt handed back the rest of the pay increase given to him last year.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Would you like to see a bike-share scheme in Christchurch?Related story: Free bikes plan for Christchurch