Able to name their price

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

hat’s in a name?’’ This pro­found ques­tion ut­tered by Juliet in Shake­speare’s Romeo and Juliet has im­pli­ca­tions to­day which the bard would never have imag­ined.

What is in a name, af­ter all? Is it just some­thing by which to iden­tify one hu­man be­ing from an­other? Is it a sign of sta­tus in so­ci­ety? Can it be used to in­flate a per­son’s pro­fes­sional stand­ing and, as a con­se­quence, their salary? Or is it a box into which we can cast all those we think fit?

This ques­tion has ex­er­cised my mind might­ily these last few months with the furore over the seem­ingly in­de­cent salary rises be­stowed on the chief ex­ec­u­tives of Christchurch and Kapiti. It seems to me that the only thing that mat­ters in our world at the mo­ment is mon­e­tary wealth.

Think of the ob­scene salaries be­stowed on chief ex­ec­u­tives of big pri­vate com­pa­nies. Who on earth needs mil­lions of dol­lars a year, for good­ness’ sake? In this in­stance, I have ev­ery sym­pa­thy with the ef­forts of the Oc­cupy move­ment around the world. As far as the heads of lo­cal bod­ies in New Zealand are con­cerned, my mind goes back to the days when my fa­ther was a town clerk.

I have read com­par­isons be­tween the du­ties of a town clerk and those of the mod­ern lo­cal coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive. In fact, they are not the same. The tra­di­tional town clerk was a glo­ri­fied sec­re­tary, deal­ing KIL­IAN DE LACY mainly with doc­u­ments, records, li­cences, ac­counts and such.

One of the re­quire­ments of such a per­son was abil­ity to use a typewriter.

On the other hand, the chief ex­ec­u­tive is re­spon­si­ble to the lo­cal coun­cil for: im­ple­ment­ing the de­ci­sions of the coun­cil; en­sur­ing that all func­tions, du­ties, and pow­ers del­e­gated to him or her are prop­erly per­formed or ex­er­cised; de­ter­min­ing the means to achieve the out­comes sought by the coun­cil; en­sur­ing the ef­fec­tive, ef­fi­cient and eco­nomic man­age­ment of the ac­tiv­i­ties and plan­ning of the coun­cil; pro­vid­ing ad­vice to coun­cil­lors and mem­bers of com­mu­nity boards; and ap­point­ing and ter­mi­nat­ing staff.

Con­trast this with the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the head of a pri­vate com­pany: ev­ery­thing, es­pe­cially in a startup. The chief ex­ec­u­tive is re­spon­si­ble for the suc­cess or fail­ure of the com­pany. Op­er­a­tions, mar­ket­ing, strat­egy, fi­nanc­ing, cre­ation of com­pany cul­ture, hu­man re­sources, hir­ing, fir­ing, com­pli­ance with safety reg­u­la­tions, sales, PR, etc. It all falls on their shoul­ders.

The big dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is the re­quire­ment of a pri­vate com­pany chief ex­ec­u­tive to make prof­its for the com­pany and the share­hold­ers. Ul­ti­mately, the chief ex­ec­u­tive should be cre­at­ing more than a dol­lar of value for ev­ery dol­lar in­vested in the com­pany. The lo­cal body chief ex­ec­u­tive sim­ply spends money which comes out of the ratepay­ers’ pock­ets. He or she is not re­spon­si­ble for rais­ing this rev­enue.

So why are we pay­ing salaries of a quar­ter of a mil­lion dol­lars plus to these peo­ple? Is it be­cause the peo­ple qual­i­fied to carry out the du­ties of a chief ex­ec­u­tive will sim­ply not look at any salary which does not ap­prox­i­mate that of a pri­vate com­pany chief ex­ec­u­tive? I hope not.

Where is the spirit of com­mu­nity re­spon­si­bil­ity which used to adorn our (un­paid) lo­cal coun­cil­lors? It all comes back to money in the long run. And what is money? You can lose it overnight, as many in­vestors in failed fi­nance com­pa­nies found out to their cost. Sure, it can get you sta­tus, goods and free­dom be­yond that of oth­ers. But I come back to my orig­i­nal ques­tion. Do we re­ally need that much?

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