Marryatt's legal action criticised

GRIEVANCE: Christchurch City Council boss Tony Marryatt took ratepayer-funded legal action against city councillors.
GRIEVANCE: Christchurch City Council boss Tony Marryatt took ratepayer-funded legal action against city councillors.

Taking ratepayer-funded legal action against Christchurch councillors is "extraordinary behaviour" from a chief executive, and Tony Marryatt was lucky to get his legal costs reimbursed, an employment law expert says.

It emerged last week that Christchurch City Council boss Marryatt filed a personal grievance against city councillors on April 18, two months after 4000 people protested outside the civic headquarters against his controversial $68,000 pay rise.

Six of the then 13 city councillors were also at the protest, which called on the Government to dismiss Marryatt.

The grievance was settled before it went to the Employment Court. Marryatt did not receive a payout, but the council reimbursed his legal costs, understood to be between $10,000 and $30,000.

Employment lawyer Peter Cullen, of Cullen Law, said yesterday that Marryatt's actions were "extraordinary behaviour".

While Marryatt was not the first local government chief executive to file a grievance against his council, he was the first Cullen had heard of where the complainant stayed in his role.

He believed Marryatt was "lucky" to have his legal costs reimbursed as the protest was not organised by the council as a whole.

The councillors who attended had done so independently.

"I would have thought it's a matter, really, to sort out with his employer, the council, to try to resolve the matter internally," 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 said.

"He again is not thinking of the vast majority of the overworked, underpaid eastern suburbs residents," Lynch said.

Lynch said he paid his rates bill at the civic headquarters on Friday, but "as a final symbolic gesture" refused to pay this year's 7.5 per cent increase until Marryatt handed back the rest of last year's pay increase.

Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network spokesman Mike Coleman said Marryatt's actions showed 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," Coleman said.

Public relations consultant David Lynch said he believed issues of staff performance led to problems at the council that resulted in Marryatt being publicly criticised.

A week before Christmas, Marryatt was given a $68,129 pay rise backdated to July 1, taking his total salary to $538,529.

At first he accepted the pay increase, but later said he would decline the bulk of the money after the big public outcry and a meeting with then local government minister Nick Smith and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee.

He said he would return the $26,000 he had already accumulated when councillors started working together effectively, but has yet to do so.

The Press