18 Jan 2023

Christchurch council at odds over giving up extra salaries

6:14 pm on 18 January 2023
Phil Mauger

Christchurch Mayor Phil Mauger. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Christchurch city councillors are divided on a contentious council policy which requires members who serve as directors of council-owned organisations to donate tens of thousands of dollars worth of fees to a hardship fund.

A policy was introduced by former mayor Lianne Dalziel in 2017 which requires councillors who serve as directors for council-owned organisations donate to the Mayor's Welfare Fund and the Innovation and Sustainability Fund in lieu of receiving director fees.

However, an independent review conducted by Northington Partners proposes the fees instead be paid back to councillors who were directors of Christchurch City Holdings Ltd (CCHL), ChristchurchNZ, Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust (OCHT) or Transwaste Canterbury.

Mayor Phil Mauger, who is a director of Transwaste, has responded by tabling a decision on the policy at next week's council meeting, following a 10-7 vote at a December council meeting.

Aside from Mauger, deputy mayor Pauline Cotter and councillor Jake McLellan, who are both on the OCHT board, are the only members who might be affected.

A total of $291,600 worth of fees were donated to the funds in lieu of councillor-director fees last year.

Previous reviews of the policy have sparked fiery debate around the council table with some councillors describing their colleagues as "greedy" on the matter.

But Fendalton ward councillor James Gough, who previously served as a director for CCHL, said directors should be "remunerated appropriately".

"Commercial best practice is you remunerate, that's why director fees are paid.

"It's not just done because they think people who served as directors need a pay top up.

"It's recompense for work that they do and liability that they assume, that people that aren't in that role are not getting ... that's why it exists.

"Telling someone what they should do with money that's been paid for a job that they've done and liability that they've undertaken, I think that's inappropriate."

Gough's director fees were previously donated to Christchurch Lego-building charity Imagination Station.

"Politically, the right decision to do is to donate the fees to charity," he said.

"From my perspective this policy isn't going to affect me."

He said there was a difference between one's legal liability as a councillor and as a company director.

"I think it's unfair and not appropriate to ask someone to undertake additional work and take on additional roles and responsibilities and assume very real personal and criminal liability, that doesn't apply in your role as a councillor and not have any recompense for that."

Central ward councillor McLellan, who voted against the policy being reviewed at last month's council meeting, said scrapping it would be wrong.

"We're only appointed to these boards because of the fact that we're councillors, so to use that to pocket extra cash is not the right thing to be doing."

McLellan did not believe compensation for the additional liability burden "held much water".

"We're insured for our financial liability as directors.

"I'm not saying that taking on a directorship isn't more work and doesn't carry extra risk, I just don't think we should keep those fees."

The first council meeting of the year is on 25 January.

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