Marryatt's defence welcome

Last updated 13:59 06/01/2012

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Tony Marryatt should be congratulated for speaking to The Press about his salary rise. He has remained silent about the issue until now - a silence that has stoked people's anger about an increase many regard as excessive, unwarranted and insufficiently explained. But Marryatt's explanations will not much lessen the anger because they come too late. Citizens - overwhelmingly it seems - have made up their minds.

They might not have done so had the city council handled the announcement of the rise more openly. It had a case to make about the appropriateness of the pay rise and the best time to make that case was before opposition was aroused and entrenched. In not so acting, the council found itself on the back foot, where it has remained ever since.

The mistiming is particularly strange because the council has a substantial communications staff and its councillors surely are aware of the community's attitudes, but both failed to see the danger in delaying the pay announcement and failing to properly account for it.

That public relations failure might not have mattered, but it touched a raw nerve. It was seen as continuing the council's liking for secrecy and being out of touch with the mood of the city.

To his credit, Marryatt now talks about that mood. But he misunderstands its implications for his pay deal. He thinks the emotional toll of the earthquakes has prompted the public response.

Christchurch people are all to at least some degree stressed but few are seeking an outlet in unreasonable actions. On the Marryatt deal - as letters to the editor show - citizens are articulate and able to express their opposition convincingly.

It focuses on three points: The inappropriate size of the pay rise when most people are getting little more than an inflation adjustment in their pay packets; the disconnect between the salary and what is required of its recipient; the quality of Marryatt's performance, the alleged excellence of which is used by the council to justify the rise.

That criticism might be dissipated were the council to release the pay-deal file. The report from independent consultants and councillors' assessment of Marryatt's performance should, considering what they led to, be convincing. Some critics would be won over were evidence produced showing that Marryatt's pay was the going rate and that his administration has been outstanding.

In the spirit of transparency that Mayor Bob Parker promised in his re-election campaign, the file should be released. Its being withheld on the grounds of commercial sensitivity or privacy would be specious: The CEO's performance should be specified to citizens because it is their money that pays him, and its release has no commercial or privacy implications; how his pay compares with other CEOs in similar positions is one of the main justifications of the deal so should be publicly specified, and has no commercial or privacy implications.

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It is next to certain that the file will not be released because the mayor and his chief executive probably calculate it would reinvigorate a debate they hope is fading. But their calculation is flawed. The debate will subside but people are unlikely to forget what it was about - and that recollection could find expression in the ballot box.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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