Nick Smith says early Chch election 'last resort'

Local Government Minister Nick Smith says holding early elections for the troubled Christchurch City Council would be an absolute last resort.

About 2000 chanting ratepayers turned out in a heated public rally yesterday (Wed) to vent their frustrations at what they saw as a dysfunctional Christchurch City Council, and controversial decisions such as a $68,000 pay rise awarded to chief executive Tony Marryatt.

Mr Marryatt turned down the rise in the face of fierce public criticism, and the Government introduced a Crown observer to try to get the divided council back on track.

The moves have done little to appease ratepayers, who took to the streets yesterday calling for Mr Marryatt to stand down, chanting "out, out, out'' and demanding an early election to put together a new council.

Dr Smith told Radio New Zealand this morning that early elections would effectively "neuter'' the council for nine of the next 18 months.

"The local government act in which I could appoint a review authority ... would take about three months. We would then go into local council elections - if it was recommended as the right way forward - that would put us back another three months. And of course we would still, under the law, have to have council elections again in 2013. That would effectively have the Christchurch City Council in caretaker mode for nine months of the next 18 months.''

However, if the council did completely "melt down'' the Government would reluctantly initiate an early election, Dr Smith said.

"That's a last resort and we're saying we want to give this Crown observer intervention the best chance and ... my view is that that is the best hope to get Christchurch back on track.''

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said people needed to understand that the council was at the most extraordinary place in its history.

"No local government organisation in New Zealand has ever had to cope with the stuff that we're coping with at a personal and a professional level. This is understandable. It's okay, draw a breath, re-focus, get the job done, that's what we need, and I think that's what the vast majority of people in our city would like us to do _ would support us to do _ right now,'' he told Newstalk ZB this morning.

Mr Parker said he would still travel to Asia next week to promote the city, despite the two-week trip drawing strong criticism.

"I've spoken to the Crown observer and I've asked the councillors and been given their blessing, so I think it's appropriate that I honour engagements and commitments we've made on behalf of the city,'' he told Radio New Zealand.


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