There’s never a dull week in post-quake Christchurch, but this week has certainly one of the most interesting. First, we had deputy mayor and political non-entity Ngaire Button announcing that she was joining with class-clown Aaron Keown to combat party politics. How was she planning on doing this? Well, she’s decided form her own non-political political allegiance – CityFirst, and has chosen to leave the city’s other non-political political allegiance, Independent Citizens, to do so. Both of these groupings are just the usual National-party-in-drag for local body elections that you see in other cities. Even the Press editorial took the time to point out a politician who ran on a platform of not standing for anything was next to useless. A rather bad week for Button, who is clearly out of her depth at the council.
However, this was all blown out of the water when Gerry Brownlee decided to see what would happen when he pressed the big red button on his desk. Turns out, things go boom. Gerry discovered there was a problem with the number of consents being issued by the City Council, and rather than ringing the mayor or any of the councillors, took his concerns directly to the media. This, inevitably, led to another round of shouting between the government and the council, which achieved very little apart from lowering the esteem that the public has in these people further (if that’s possible).
Because of the way Gerry went about things, it was hard to establish what the actual problem was at first, but I think we’re a little clearer on that now. The Council’s ability to issue building consents is bestowed upon it by International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ). IANZ is concerned with the Council’s performance, and told them so in writing on the 30th of May, saying that they needed to resolve the outstanding problems by the 28th of June, or their ability to issue consents would be revoked. The letter went to the council, where it was seen by senior management, who decided that this was not a big deal, and declined to inform the councillors. Hence when Gerry went to the media, it was the first that the Mayor and the councillors had heard that there was an issue.
So while Parker was doing his very best “what me, worry?” act, and Brownlee was blustering about like a particularly grumpy nor’wester, the real culprit seemed to escape most of the ire. Yes, Tony Marryatt, the council’s much-reviled CEO. He, along with “Democracy and Regulatory Services Manager” Peter Mitchell received the email and made the decision not to inform the councillors or the mayor. You may remember Marryatt from his stint at the Hamilton Council, in which he secured the disastrous V8 race. Or maybe you recall his $68,000 pay increase, which caused one of the biggest protests Christchurch has seen since the Springbok tour. Yes, Marryat got a letter saying that the council would be stripped of one of it’s key roles if it didn’t shape up, and he somehow decided that this was not worth bothering the elected representatives. This is staggeringly inept behaviour, and it’s not the first time.
I’m no fan of Bob Parker and his “A” team (a misleading moniker if ever I heard one), but they shouldn’t be shouldered with the blame for this. They were completely in the dark for a fortnight, then left scrambling to explain what was going on. No, the blame lies squarely at the feet of the council staff, led by Tony Marryat. The elected representatives – whatever you think of their politics – don’t deserve to be undermined by unelected staff who think they run the show. Marryat, Mitchell and anyone else involved in this counter-productive subculture needs to be cleared out as soon as possible. While we’re waiting for these guys’ contracts to run out, we have got a chance to throw out Parker and any of the other councillors who thought that this muppet deserved a $68,000 payrise: Ngaire Button, Aaron Keown, Jamie Gough, Sue Wells, Barry Corbett and Claudia Reid are all names to avoid when you’re voting in October.