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Christchurch protest over city chief's pay rise

Published: 5:18AM Thursday December 22, 2011 Source: Fairfax

Christchurch residents have taken their anger at city council chief Tony Marryatt's $68,000 pay rise directly to civic headquarters.

About 50 people, including a number who said they were protesting for the first time, went to the Christchurch City Council's Hereford St offices yesterday afternoon, carrying signs including "It's our money Tony."

There were heated words for deputy mayor Ngaire Button, who spoke to the crowd but was stopped by her media advisers after some protesters became angry.

The direct protest, which built on public anger in letters to media, came as one councillor questioned the information provided to justify the rise and another called for a review of the decision.

The council said last week that Marryatt had been given a $68,129 pay rise, taking his annual salary $538,529 from July 1 this year.

Protest organiser Peter Lynch said he was not normally a protester but, as someone interested in ratepayer issues, Marryatt's pay rise was the "straw that's broken the camel's back".

"The days are over that council can just recklessly spend our money," he said.

First-time protester Geoffrey Judge, 65, said there was a "serious principle at stake here". "There are so many people hurting out there. People are still using portaloos," he said. "The way people see it, it's just such bad PR - so arrogant."

Ratepayer Nick Randall, 70, said the key issue for him was the "Bob [Parker] and Tony [Marryatt] show" and "how they are guarding each other's backs". "The way [Marryatt's] accepted this pay rise is absolutely obscene. It certainly flies in the face of decency," he said.

Button said she could "understand the public would carry disappointment and anger around how much some people are paid. I was a single mum ... I understand hardship," she said. "I don't think Christchurch is the place, or now is the time, to try to fix up those social injustices. We've got our own issues as a city."

Button said it was important to have someone in the chief executive role who could do the job.

"Our chief executive's salary is in line with other New Zealand CEOs. We need to pay a competitive rate. Not everyone can do the job," she said.

Wider Earthquake Communities' Action Network spokesman the Rev Mike Coleman, who helped to organise the meeting, said the increase was "incredibly unwise". He said the organisers were likely to arrange another rally for residents to show their anger at the "bizarre" decision.

Councillors last week voted to approve the increase by seven votes to five behind closed doors.

Mayor Bob Parker has said the council sought "external professional help" to determine an appropriate salary for Marryatt beforehand.

However, Cr Helen Broughton said she had concerns about the information given to councillors.

Broughton, who voted against the increase, said information about market salaries for chief executives used figures from the private and public sectors, which she believed was inappropriate.

She had asked the company that supplied the figures for a calculation based solely on public sector salaries, but it was not provided.

She said the council should have taken more time to consider the issue.

Cr Aaron Keown, who supported the increase, said he would ask Parker and Marryatt whether the council could hold a public review of the decision to consider feedback and explain the reasons for the increase. He had concerns about high-end salaries, but did not regret supporting Marryatt's increase.

Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee would not be drawn on the issue.

"They've made a decision. That's what they think the pay rates should be, and that's their decision," he said.

A council spokeswoman said the council would not release reports as the issue had been discussed in a public-excluded section of the council meeting. Councillors were given copies of the report during the meeting, but were asked to hand them back after the vote was taken.

Marryatt, who is on leave on the Gold Coast, could not be reached for comment.

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