Marryatt regrets letter surprise

LOIS CAIRNS AND RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 05:00 15/06/2013
tony marryatt std
Kirk Hargreaves
DUAL ROLE: Civic Assurance chairman Tony Marryatt appears at a council committee meeting today.

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Council boss Tony Marryatt didn't quite admit fault, but conceded the city councillor in charge of consents should have been told the organisation was about to lose its consenting powers.

A letter from International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) on May 30 gave the Christchurch City Council formal notice of its intention to revoke its accreditation as a consent authority on June 28 if processing problems were not fixed.

Mayor Bob Parker and elected councillors were not told about it until Wednesday, with many finding out through the media.

The first major concession of the week came yesterday, when Marryatt acknowledged that planning committee chairwoman Cr Sue Wells should have been informed of the letter and that Parker and other councillors were kept in the dark because he was confident staff were addressing issues raised by IANZ, and that the June 28 deadline would be met.

The communication breakdown comes on the back of a damning audit last year, after which Marryatt pledged to improve the information flow to elected members. A "no surprises" policy was also implementedkey information ahead the public.

However, critics said the silence on the IANZ letter revealed a dysfunctional relationship between staff and councillors.
Wells also yesterday made it clear to staff she should have been briefed on the letter.

"I have expressed my thoughts on their judgment and they have apologised," she said.

Cr Yani Johanson was at a loss to explain the oversights:

"From time to time I can understand that something might slip through, but these things are significant. I can't understand why we were not told about these things when management were aware of them, the chair of the council's community, recreation and culture committee, said yesterday..

"You have to ask how many times do these things keep happening without any sort of consequences?"

The chief executive was ultimately responsible for changing the culture in the council, he said. did not respond to questions about the IANZ letter breaching the "no surprises" policy, but did front on his controversial decision to award staff an extra day of paid leave per month - another call that blindsided councillors when The Press reported it in November - in the face of the huge consent backlog.

"[Consenting staff] are working extra shifts, while some, on a voluntary basis, are working extra hours at nights, and also over weekends, to cope with the increased demand for building consents," he said.

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Cr Peter Beck said it was "embarrassing" councillors had not been told earlier of the council's predicament.

Cr Helen Broughton, a member of the special council subcommittee that monitors the chief executive's performance, said it would need to quickly consider whether Marryatt had breached the "no surprises" policy.

Public relations consultant Felicity Price, who did last year's audit of the council's communications, declined to comment.

WHAT THE COUNCILLORS DIDN'T KNOW

That International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) had given the council formal notice of its intention to revoke its accreditation as a consenting authority – something management had known since May 30. Councillors found out on Wednesday.

That Environment Canterbury boss Dame Margaret Bazley had sent the council a scathing letter in which she slammed "staff who tell lies and . . . a totally incompetent organisation". That letter was sent on April 16.

That all council staff – including the beleaguered consenting staff – were to be given an extra day's paid leave for a month, for 11 months. That decision was made last November and councillors only learned of it through The Press. 

- © Fairfax NZ News

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