Bob Parker, an ex NZ TV personality, is mayor of my city Christchurch, wracked by 11,000 earthquakes since late 2010 and two particularly devastating shakes on 4/9/10 and 22/2/11. This is my city and my wife and I were particularly affected by these events and continue to be so. It will take us years to return to where we were in 2010.
Bob has a unique perspective, so I am reading his new book “Ripped Apart, A City in Chaos.” There is a wait list at the Christchurch libraries of 80 for 14 copies of this book.
I am not blinkered on Bob, he and I don’t always agree, and I’ve disagreed with some of his perspectives publicly (Moving Ilam University, for example). But I believe Bob is a good mayor and has functioned as a responsible and humanitarian leader under considerable provocation and a rear-guard partisan action motivated by politics to undermine him. His second council has been wracked by individual dissension and disunity while others on Council have worked together. Much criticism of him has been motivated by personal interests and decisions Bob and others have been forced to make that worked against potential profits others may, or may not, have made.
Here are two examples from the book, which I’m half way through, that indicate Bob’s approach.
Council Raiding of Supermarkets.
After 22/2 there was no power. Tens of thousands of people were streaming out of the city. A chilly night was scheduled. No shelter, food or heating. Bob suggested they commandeer the tents in Hagley Park being set up for the Ellerslie Flower Show. This was done and blankets were taken from evacuated hotels to house refugees as the city continued to shake. We slept in our 4×4 in our neighbour’s drive at Mt Pleasant (our house had collapsed on us). We rocked all night as the ground heaved.
Bob also suggested Council raid the supermarkets on Moorhouse Avenue full of frozen foods which would perish without power, to provide food for evacuees who had nothing. He ordered staff to do this and to worry about the bills later. This was done escorted by police and with the full support of the supermarket owners on the ground. It was a courageous decision, but the right one. People first, sort the legalities and niceties later.
4/9 hit the week Council was moving in to its brand new purpose-built civic offices. They were still in the process. In fact, everything including the Civil Defence headquarters was still back at the old Tuam St site, damaged by the quake. An official said, “we have no whiteboards!” “Use the walls, they’re white” said Bob. And they did, using the pristine designer walls of the new Council home to write and organise response to the chaos. A mural of chaos over freshly painted walls.
Two examples of Bob’s approach, which put people and necessities first over process, bureaucracy and rules.
Good leadership in crisis.
I’ll review Ripped Apart when done.