Editorial: Council finally faces the music

It has taken far too long, but Mayor Bob Parker and city councillors are finally facing up to their roles in systemic faults within a part of the council crucial to the city's recovery.

After denying repeatedly that anything was seriously wrong, Parker yesterday at last conceded, in the light of incontrovertible evidence from International Accreditation New Zealand, that he and councillors were not fully informed about the functioning of the council, and that something had to be done to correct the situation.

The city's chief executive officer, Tony Marryatt, has gone on leave "pending further discussions", and councillors will today invite the Government to appoint a Crown manager to take control of its troubled building consents department.

Marryatt was the immediate focus of yesterday's events. He can now expect that his actions over the past few months will be closely scrutinised, and he may lose his job. That is as it should be. He is the sole employee of the elected councillors, and is responsible for whatever is done by those beneath him. Systemic failures, in particular, are what he is well paid to avoid.

But it should not be forgotten that Marryatt has also done much good work for the council. He was instrumental in keeping its finances in good order, and as a leader in the negotiations with the Government over the central city rebuild anchor projects, he has won a good deal for Christchurch.

And while Marryatt undoubtedly left elected members of the council under-informed on several vital matters, the mayor and many councillors, for their part, have been less dogged than they might have been in getting to the bottom of the council's failings. Some businesspeople, for instance, have complained loudly about the council's performance for some time without being able to get a satisfactory response.

It is plain now that the council delayed seeking assistance from the Government for far too long. The Government itself held off from intervening. Critics now blame it for that, but the Government's reticence is understandable. It had got it in the neck over the sacking of the elected members of Environment Canterbury, and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority has been only grudgingly accepted by many.

One can easily imagine the cries that would have gone up if it had stepped in any earlier, even in a limited way, in yet another core council function. The Minister for Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, has been repeatedly attacked as an authoritarian bully-boy, but on this occasion he held his hand. Although he chose yesterday not to, he could have been forgiven for saying "I told you so".

The aim now must be to get the council, particularly its consents department, back to functioning to the standard that is required for a safe and speedy rebuild. Delays and problems were always to be expected in such a gigantic project as that needed to get Christchurch back on its feet again. The council, however, should never have been the cause of those problems and must recover from them as rapidly as possible.

The Press