Christchurch council audit confirms complaints

An $80,000 report confirms what residents already know – that the council is culturally reluctant to communicate with residents.

An $80,000 audit into Christchurch City Council’s communications says what many residents already know.

It concludes the council is culturally reluctant to communicate with residents, giving the impression it is isolated from the community.

The council’s own media understatement today says: 

“The review found that the council was doing an excellent job keeping people informed about the projects and services it delivers....

"The report makes a series of recommendations which it says outline a need for council (elected members and management) to adopt a culture of open communication and engagement with residents and stakeholders so that the council can build understanding and mutual support for its objectives, plans and decisions.”

The communications report, written by Christchurch public relations consultant Felicity Price and Wellington-based Wilma Falconer, comes after strong dissatisfaction culminating in unprecedented street demonstrations outside council offices earlier this year.

The sources of deepest dissatisfaction arguably go back to the 2008 purchase of $17 million worth of properties from now-bankrupt Dave Henderson.

The council's chief executive divided up the deal into five motions to put to councillors at their monthly meeting, each under the $5 million threshold that would trigger public consultation.

One of the so-called “strategic” development properties is now advertised for sale.

Another irritation for many residents was the secrecy over the cost of buying the Ellerslie Flower Show.

The earthquakes triggered many other revelations – failure to adequately insure city infrastructure and the questions over the role played by the chief executive Tony Marryatt on the board of the insurance company.

Outrage at Mr Marryatt's subsequent pay rise by $70,000 to $550,000 proved the trigger for demonstrations earlier this year.

Mr Marryatt appears unfazed and is still deciding whether or not to keep a pledge that he would give some of the pay rise to charity.

It became routine for mayor Bob Parker and Mr Marryatt to announce initiatives, including a potential $100 million ratepayer-funded payment to red-zoned hilliside residents, and, more latterly, mayoral trips abroad without reference to other councillors, let alone the public.

Accusations that the council was dysfunctional led to a government-appointed observer, Kerry Marshall, who on one occasion was photographed asleep while sitting next to the mayor at a council meeting.

His subsequent report blamed councillors who disagreed with the mayor and chief executive. These councillors had also sought information from staff.

The next step in the communications saga is the council’s official consideration of the report at its next meeting.

But the catalyst for another upwelling of outrage from residents is more likely to be the review of the chief executive’s salary which is due to be announced soon.

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