Able to name their price
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?