Siege of the Marryatt: Tony’s date with destiny

INVESTIGATE FEB/MAR 2012

Christchurch City’s CEO is facing growing public anger over his justification for a 14.4%, $68,000 payrise while the city is struggling to rebuild. But one man who’s worked with Tony Marryatt in the past is former Kiwi Airlines CEO turned Hamilton councillor EWAN WILSON, who recounted his dealings with Marryatt in this extract from his recent biography, Help, My Plane’s On Fire

David Braithwaite came from great Waikato stock. His pedigree included a father who had once been the mayor of the city of Hamilton and his mother had also made a great contribution as a city councillor. His grandfather had been the mayor of Dunedin. Jack Braithwaite – a relative of David’s – was executed in France in 1916 during the Great War for mutiny and was subsequently pardoned under the Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act. The poor man had simply been suffering from shell shock. David himself had served as a councillor and considered by some a successful businessman who was ruthless but had a propensity to make money. He had great aspirations but in the end David’s mayoralty was a shambles in my opinion. Some called the whole council dysfunctional. However, in reality this was furthest from the truth. The council and its staff did great work over its 3 years despite Braithwaite.

Braithwaite himself in his autobiography states that it was all down to an intransigent CEO, in the form of Tony Marryatt, and a biased media. Tony Marryatt is one of New Zealand’s top local government CEO’s. In my view of him, he’s pragmatic, smart, manipulative and calculating, which you can roughly translate as ‘he has the cunning of a fox and the political morals of an alley cat’. Most importantly, however, he understands the dynamics that are at play within any council in New Zealand. He knew that his power, which was huge, was nonetheless at the whim of the Councillors, although he had even managed to mitigate our ability to rein him in as his employment contract meant that if we were to let him go the payout would be huge. It also has to be said of Marryatt that his skills would be less successful in the commercial arena, in my view, as with councils in tight positions there’s always recourse to hitting up ratepayers for over-runs or unexpected events, whereas in private enterprise one doesn’t have that luxury.

The key media outlet in Hamilton is the Waikato Times, its editorial direction driven by a hardnosed, highly articulate man by the name of Bryce Jones who is in the business of selling newspapers but not at any cost. Accuracy and integrity were important values. His man on the spot was the civic reporter Geoff Taylor. Taylor was smart and showed incredible understanding of local politics. More importantly he had built great relationships with individual councillors. In all of my dealings with him he was hard but fair. He would always hunt out the issues and showed no bias. This did not mean that we always loved what he wrote. In fact at times it was the opposite, but his reports were balanced and from the media you can’t ask for more than that.

Braithwaite in my opinion misunderstood his role as mayor and then showed no ability to adjust to the dynamics. A mayor in NZ is best described as 1st among equals, unlike the American system where a mayor has more executive power; here in NZ those executive powers are held by the CEO of the city. The council including the mayor decide the strategic direction and broad policies but their only employee, the CEO, manages all of the day to day running of the council. In other words to be a great mayor you need to be able to impart a vision and nurture and cajole your fellow councillors to get things done. The art of compromise is a must and having a good relationship with the CEO is mandatory.

The other key element is the ability to count. In Hamilton’s case Braithwaite just needed to have 7 votes including himself to get things through. In my opinion, Braithwaite either lacked these skills or chose never to use them, because it was a rare day when the numbers stacked up his way.

When Braithwaite was elected I have no doubt at all Marryatt would have met with him as soon as possible and recommended who within council should have the key positions in each of the portfolios and more money. In 2001 the simple fact was the majority of the re elected councillors did not want councillor Dave Macpherson in any chairman role. Macpherson had managed to get offside with many during the previous electoral term, so when Braithwaite arrived on scene as mayor he at least found early common ground with other councillors on ring-fencing Macpherson. He had 12 councillors supporting him including myself, the only one not was councillor Dave Macpherson, who was clearly in political Coventry.

But what happened over the next few months spoke volumes about David Braithwaite and his lack of real leadership qualities, to my mind. He systematically destroyed the relationships with most of the very people he needed to run an effective mayoralty. Did anyone else play a role in Braithwaite demise – NO, but some took great joy in highlighting his predisposition for tripping himself up. At the inquest on Braithwaite’s political career, I would quite happily stand before the coroner to argue my viewpoint: “The man was so out of touch, your honour. It wasn’t political murder, but death by self-inflicted stupidicide”.

 

The Councillors

Councillor Dave Macpherson is not someone to ever underestimate. A socialist at heart but with a contradictory flare for commerce. Beneath his solid and rather plump frame lies a very quick wit and a tongue, which could clip a hedge from 12 metres. He is a good orator and very clever at bringing things you have said in the past to haunt you. He was known as “Mongrel Mac” and was one of the few whose bite was worse than his bark, and his bark was pretty damn good.

The story goes that Mac was once knocking on doors while campaigning and was bitten by the property’s dog. His opponents commented to the media that Macpherson was fine, just a little shaken, but the health of the dog was unknown after biting Macpherson.

If however you are an underdog and have a real issue that needs fixing, there was no one who would work harder to try to sort it out. Passionate about Hamilton and a great advocate he would happily share his knowledge and wisdom with fellow councillors. The art was in deciphering it. Get on his wrong side and you would pay. I recall two first hand experiences with Macpherson where I was left blooded. One was the kidnapping of all my Rugby World Cup tickets. The world cup in 2003 was in Australia, and to be able to order tickets on line you needed an address in Australia. At the time Macka and I were seeing eye to eye and he suggested we use his sister’s address in Melbourne. Unfortunately, for me I lost the address and when I went to ask him for the details again he was suffering from a selective form of amnesia and could not recall any of the details. This was because I had gone back on my word about not trying to remove him from his chairmanship. Obviously at the time he had upset my finer senses and I had sided in a debate with Braithwaite for his removal. It never got the numbers but Macka was out to get me.

In the end I got the tickets a few hours before the game. He was always a tough negotiator.

These personality traits had led him to become unpopular with his fellow councillors during the Rimmington mayoralty. Rimmington, being the strategic thinker, was smart enough at least to ensure that Macpherson was kept very close and had a number of roles.

Naturally, that did not please a number of senior councillors within the Rimmington elite. However with Braithwaite coming to power, the majority of the returning councillors ensured via Marryatt that

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