Christchurch ratepayers struggling to cope in a earthquake-ravaged city have vented their anger over a pay rise of almost $70,000 a year for the city council chief executive.
Tony Marryatt stands to gain an extra $68,129 from the salary increase narrowly approved last week by the council - taking his total salary to $538,529 a year.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker, who voted in favour of the increase, says it is in line with the pay of other chief executives in similar positions, and recognises the large responsibility Mr Marryatt has been carrying after the quakes.
But news of the increase, and its timing, has been met with anger and disbelief by Christchurch residents when so many have lost their homes and livelihoods.
About 40 ratepayers, some carrying placards and shouting for justice, went to the city council offices yesterday to express their views about the pay rise.
Ratepayer Pamela Nunn said it showed "blatant disrespect" to the people of Christchurch.
"This just makes us all sick that the people we voted for would do this. It just feels like a slap in the face."
Protest organiser Peter Lynch warned that if Mr Marryatt did not turn down the pay increase, yesterday's protest at the council offices would be only the beginning.
"The days are over that the council can just recklessly spend our money."
Mr Marryatt is holidaying overseas, and Mr Parker is in the North Island with his family, so yesterday it fell to Christchurch Deputy Mayor Ngaire Button to try to explain the pay increase.
She said she could understand the global outcry over large salaries paid to some when others were in hardship but "I don't think Christchurch is the place, and I don't think now is the time, for us as a city ... to try to fix up those social injustices".
"As a city, going into the rebuild we need the best people we can get to do the job. To get a good chief executive we have to be prepared to pay a competitive rate."
As the interjections and criticisms grew, Mrs Button walked away from addressing the group.
City councillor Yani Johanson, who voted against the pay increase, said Mr Marryatt's rise sent a "very poor signal to our community as to where our values and morals are as a city".