OPINION: Is there a public-spirited private detective out there? If so, I would like him to snoop on Mr Marryatt, the head of the Christchurch City Council. This is partly because Mr Marryatt has set a detective to snoop on me. Tit, as it were, for tit.
At the same time, as one of Mr Marryatt's 400,000 employers, I would like to know whether he is still whacking my rates around a golf course while claiming to be at work, and, indeed, seeking sympathy for being at work.
(Mr Marryatt's defence that he "needed to clear his head" was, I presume, an attempt at humour. Public servants should never attempt humour. Indeed, if Mr Marryatt promises never again to try to be funny, I promise not to apply for his job.)
The city council is clearly unwell. With my habitual generosity, I shall show it how to get better. But first I exempt from criticism the council workers.
They have performed wonders, restoring the water supply, fixing sewers and reopening roads.
Most of them earn less in a year than Mr Marryatt has received as a pay rise and their chances of getting a 14 per cent increase are the same as my chances of getting a kiss from Mr Marryatt.
The sickness, as always, shows up in the language. Mr Marryatt, for example, is known as a CEO. But he is not a CEO. A CEO runs a competitive business that has to earn money. The council is a monopoly that does not have to earn money. It just demands money from ratepayers. So Mr Marryatt's job is merely to oversee the spending of a guaranteed income. Spending is easier than earning.
Mr Marryatt's role used to have the more accurate title of town clerk. I think we should revive it. It is an honourable title but it stresses that the role is clerical. No-one pays a clerk half a million bucks.
I propose that we all refer to Mr Marryatt from now on as Clerk Tony. For one thing, it might improve his popularity. The name suggests a jolly Chaucerian pilgrim, toddling towards Canterbury in his jandals, telling stories as he goes and stopping for the occasional head-clearing round of medieval golf.
And it's an improvement on other names I have heard him called. A lawyer, who rang me the other day to offer support, referred to Mr Marryatt as L'Oreal Man.
"Why?" I said. "Because," said the lawyer, "he thinks he's worth it."
The interview that Clerk Tony gave to justify his pay rise has been described as a PR disaster. It was just the opposite. By speaking with unguarded honesty, Clerk Tony let the public see his corporate mindset and his disdain for the ratepayers.
The corporate mindset bedevils the council. In imitation of the business world, it has a legion of managers with inflated titles. This helps them to forget they are public servants. Public servant is another honourable title I hope to revive.
Henceforth I plan to address the regulation and democracy services manager as Servant Mitchell. I doubt that it will improve my standing with him, but I am long past caring.
The council has a vast communications department. Yet it is lousy at communicating. This is because in corporate speak "communications" does not mean communicating. It means propaganda. It means press releases expressing concern for my safety when the council is only concerned about its own legal liability. It means the boastful semi- literate flier that accompanies your rates demand and tries to disguise the fact that the rates keep rising faster than your income.
The communications department performs the same task for the council as an advertising agency performs for a corporation.
For reasons I do not understand, the council also has a marketing section. It was this mob, I'd imagine, that gave the Municipal Works Department the touchy-feely title of "City Care". They coined the ludicrous slogan "Love your Rubbish" and they wrote "Your city; Your people" on the side of council vehicles. If this last statement needs to be made, it is probably untrue.
All of it is propagandist puffery, in imitation of the exciting corporate world. And that in the end is what is wrong. The council is not a corporation but a public service that has lost sight of its purpose.
That purpose is to serve the people with honesty and humility. The people are not consumers to be duped and milked, nor yet peasants to be bullied, nor yet innocents to be protected, nor yet idiots to be patronised. They are autonomous adults and they are the council's masters.
Setting a snoop on Clerk Tony would be no different from marking the gin bottle to ensure that the butler isn't sly-grogging.
- The Press