Citizen Moore

by Rebecca Macfie / 27 October, 2007
A genial, blokish, seemingly dull accountant with a penchant for vintage cars proved to be a passionate, polarising and radical Christchurch mayor. Now Garry Moore is ready to reform Auckland's sorry civic services.

There was never any chance that Garry Moore would quietly slip off the mayoral chains and discreetly slide from office.

His last hurrah - two days before a new Christchurch mayor and council were voted in - was the announcement of a $105 million city hall, to be developed and owned in partnership with Ngai Tahu.

With helium farewell balloons bobbing cheerfully above their heads, the out-going council were wowed by a proposal that represented everything Moore would wish his nine-year mayoral tenure to be remembered for: public/private partnerships (in this case with the city's tangata whenua, no less); urban renewal (an ugly 1970s concrete bunker will be remodelled as a "green" building fit for the 21st century); and central city revitalisation (shifting the city's bureaucracy closer to the CBD should perk up its sad, depleted core).

Detractors hissed that the deal was a monument to Moore: arrogant (the search for a new civic building was highly controversial - why not leave it for a newly elected council to decide?) and undemocratic (councillors got word they'd be asked to consider the deal at 8.00pm the night before their final meeting).

To which the response was classic Moore: "I'm not into that scumball politics." The process for finding a new site had been signed off by councillors months ago, and if they hadn't moved swiftly the opportunity would have evaporated.

If Moore's last outing as mayor was momentous, his first big gig as ex-mayor promised to be no less surprising. It was to be a sermon at Christchurch's Anglican Cathedral on the "spirituality of the mayoralty, and the St Benedict's challenge of moving from a position of power to a position of non-power, and keeping your humanity".

Moore, a Catholic who toyed with becoming a priest in his youth, is best mates with the city's Anglican dean, Peter Beck. He's also a fan of the Spreydon Baptist Church, an occasional visitor to the city's sometimes-troubled mosque, an admirer of Buddhists, and calls the Coptic Pope the most fascinating man he met during his mayoralty.

Politically, he's no less eclectic. A life member of the Labour Party and co-founder of the city's left-wing local body grouping, Christchurch 2021, Moore wound up at war with his old stablemates. Had he chosen to run for mayor again this year, he'd have probably been up against a challenger from his estranged clan.

In nine years as mayor, Moore remained maddeningly difficult to categorise. In the beginning he looked straightforward enough - a genial, blokish accountant with a penchant for vintage cars, who promised to be a dull but worthy successor to the big-spending Vicki Buck. A safe pair of centre-left hands.

As it turned out, he was an often polarising and radical reformer of civic affairs who used his valedictory speech to declare that Westminster-style parties, where caucuses decide their positions in back rooms before engaging in set-piece debates, had no place in local government. "The politics of left and right are dead," he said. "Everything now is the politics of the environment."

Which is all very well, say Moore's old running mates, but he would never have attained the heights of civic leadership without the backing of those Westminster-style parties. David Close, retired councillor, Labour stalwart and leader of Christchurch 2021: "I would point out that Garry became a committee chair, a director of Christchurch City Holdings and mayor as a result of the support of the Labour group in the first place, and later of 2021. So while he may now say he doesn't like party caucusing, it would be true to say that he would never have reached the status of mayor without the support of the group."

Ouch.

But the diplomatic Close doesn't wish to appear overly negative. Moore, he says, has been a good networker among disparate groups, founded the successful Mayors Taskforce for Jobs, forged strong international links for the city in partnership with the business community, and did good work as international vice-president of Mayors for Peace.

"There are a lot of things Garry has done well. He has kept, for example, a progressive rating system. We don't have separate user charges for water or sewerage. He's kept that social justice element in the finances of the city. We haven't had charges for library books or anything like that. And so although it hasn't been a 2021 council in the last three years, they have not dismantled the social funding or the financial systems which make it a fair sort of city."

And although Moore backed last year's controversial (and unsuccessful) attempt by the city's commercial arm, Christ-church City Holdings, to take over the Lyttelton Port Company and then sell half into a joint venture with Hong Kong company Hutchison Port Holdings, he remained a firm advocate of council ownership of key assets. The city's publicly owned infrastructure - airport, seaport, bus company and electricity lines company - is now worth $1.6 billion, making it the second-biggest commercial operation in the South Island.

So if the city remains, as Moore himself still likes to call it, the People's Republic of Christchurch, why the bust-up with the Left?

Perhaps the answer lies, at least in part, in his intentions back in the mid-90s when he worked with fellow Labourites Linda Constable and Denis O'Rourke to set up Christchurch 2021 as a vehicle for a wide range of left-wing perspectives, including the likes of the Greens and left-leaning independents.

"The goal of the three of us was really to drop Labour right out because we felt it was important not to have central government politics in local government," he recalls.

The idea met with huge resistance from the Labour hierarchy, but 2021 came to dominate the council, with Moore elected under its banner at three elections.

But the Local Government Commission halved the size of the council from 24 to 12 - with reorganised wards that disadvantaged the Left - and at the 2004 election the group's power base was shattered. At the latest election, just two 2021 council candidates were elected.

The idea that Moore let this happen - indeed, encouraged it - has since become an enduring part of the city's left-wing mythology. He might have salvaged his reputation had he chosen to rail against the commission's decision. Instead, he says, he simply saw it as his job as re-elected mayor in 2004 to make the slimmed-down council work. Indeed, it gave him the opportunity - in conjunction with brutal and unpopular staff restructuring led by then city manager Lesley McTurk - to push through long-contemplated reforms.

Traditional council standing committees were abolished - Moore claims these had been used by committee chairmen "as power bases to keep others in the dark" - and replaced with broad "portfolio groups" where ideas were thrashed around by councillors and staff away from the public gaze, before being refined in open-forum "seminars" and then presented to full council for adoption or rejection.

For Moore, it was all about making local government more like corporate governance - less time spent on parish pump detail, more attention to big-picture strategy. He cites the long-overdue decision to put resources into the revitalisation of Christchurch's badly hollowed-out centre as an example of long-term strategic thinking prevailing over narrow suburban interests.

The reformed system has its fans, including Moore's former deputy mayor Carole Evans. "I've worked with three mayors," she says, "and this term of office would probably be the most productive and forward-moving council of all."

But many of Moore's old allies on the left, such as recently re-elected 2021 councillor Chrissy Williams, complain bitterly that his corporate model has led to a loss of democracy, transparency and community input.

"Bullshit," says Moore. "It's been a radical move away from 100-plus years of how local government works. And it's quite interesting that the ones who are resisting it are the ones who play the big power games ... The challenge in politics is to minimise the games, particularly if you're into a collaborative system."

Setting aside the falling out with his own faction, though, it's evident that Moore's self-proclaimed collaborative style has been more than just flannel in many areas of civic life.

Ged O'Connell, South Island regional secretary of the Engineers Union and another opponent of Moore's council reforms, credits him with acting as a circuit breaker in dealings over the Christ-church Engine Centre last year.

Moore's council had taken an indirect stake in the Pratt & Whitney/Air New Zealand operation in 2004 by investing $20 million in a new building to house an expanded jet engine testing and maintenance facility. But O'Connell says that by late last year the business was in strife; the union on the brink of industrial action.

Moore stepped in, first holding several discussions with O'Connell before pulling together a meeting that included a representative from Pratt and Whitney in the United States, Air New Zealand, the city's corporate and economic development arms, retired Air New Zealand engineering guru Barry Geddes, lawyers and management advisers.

O'Connell says that the meeting flushed out a raft of problems relating to the way the company was being managed. The union subsequently struck a compromise pay deal with the company and agreed to help get the company back on its feet, and the company has since made management changes.

"It's fair to say that things are looking up," says O'Connell. "Moore was the conduit. He used his influence very well and it gave us the opportunity to expose to the board members, the owners, and some other influential people that the management of the business was in poor shape."

Ngai Tahu Property general manager Tony Sewell similarly credits Moore's ability to pull together disparate groups of people for resolving mounting tensions over proposed development contributions that the council planned to levy under the Local Government Act.

"We were concerned about the process the council had gone through. Led by Garry, they put a committee together to review it and invited a good mix of players from the property sector to come and have a look at it. There was some very robust analysis, and the answer that came out in the end was that there was no getting away from the fact that we had to pay development contributions, but they're going to stage the process.

"What started out as a bit of an edgy debate ended up with a group of people working for the benefit of the city ... [Moore] diffused what could have been a very hot situation for the council, and headed it towards what I saw as a very pragmatic solution. It was a good bit of leadership on his part ...

"I think what he exposed in the development community was a willingness to work together that hadn't been exposed before."

Moore's long-time advisor and speech writer Greg Jackson describes his handling of what could have been a showdown with developers as "the classic Garry story of the catalyst [creating] cross-sector dialogue, and then getting something different coming out the end of it. He's got people out of their silos and sitting around and talking to each other."

As Moore is fond of saying, "I'm a lifetime Catholic, but I'm always fighting with the Catholic Church. I'm a life member of the Labour Party, but they can't tell me what to think. I've given all these last few years to the council, but the council doesn't tell me how to think. But if anything I do puts my family at risk, I'll stop. I rise and fall on my family."

He describes his wife, Pam Sharpe, the warm, unaffected woman he's been married to for 30 years, as his "best mate and strongest critic". Sharpe, an aged-care nurse who continued to work up to four shifts throughout the mayoralty, has been more co-mayor than mayoress. He says there wasn't a single major decision over the past nine years that she didn't have a part in, and that the city has effectively had two mayors for the price of one.

At times, they've seemed like a two-person pastoral care agency, and close friends such as Linda Constable say most members of the public wouldn't know of the behind-the-scenes efforts the couple make to support people who are down, bereaved or ill.

After the Edgeware Road tragedy, when 22-year-old Lipine Sila allegedly drove into a crowd of partygoers, killing two girls, they organised a public meeting for the city's parents who, Moore says, "lost confidence in themselves" because of the incident. Sharpe also spent time supporting Sally Rossiter, whose daughter, Hannah, was killed.

What's less widely known is that the couple also paid a supportive visit to Sila's family shortly after the incident. Moore: "What happens when a kid behaves badly ... is that there's a mother and father and a family that are just as confused as everyone else, and they're treated like pariahs by society. And we felt it was important to speak to everybody."

Not everyone applauded this mayoral act of kindness, and Moore says that some people accused him of defending the alleged perpetrator. "I don't think everyone understood it, but you do the right thing. We found that family as confused and shattered as everybody else ... Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

The retort sounds, and is, pious: "There is a deep spiritual commitment to whatever I do."

Sharpe promptly dismisses the suggestion of anything unusual about their community involvement which, for many years, included helping out at the City Mission's midwinter dinner. "We are not exceptional. There are people all over the city who do exceptional stuff."

Moore's mayoral memoir, however, is crammed with generous eulogies from the city's captains of industry, including the libertarian property developer David Henderson, who admires his "anarchistic streak" and "healthy disrespect for authority".

And Wally Stone, chairman of Kaikoura Whale Watch, in which Moore has been involved for two decades and continues to serve as a director, says his blend of social values and business nous is unusual. He says it mightn't sound like much now, but in the context of a depressed rural town in 1987, Moore's confidence that what was little more than a hare-brained idea could succeed was very powerful. In his view, Moore's ability to straddle the demands of the commercial world and social development imperatives make him the "Stephen Tindall of local government".

Says Stone: "Local government can't service a community on its own and the private sector can't service the community on its own, and nor can central government. What we actually need are people like Garry who understand each view and each perspective, who can build bridges."

Moore wouldn't mind the chance to do a spot of bridge-building in Auckland now that he's vacated the mayoral office in Christ-church, and has put his hand up for the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Queen City's local government needs.

He reckons the place needs a thorough overhaul and could learn a thing or two from Christchurch. Auckland's multiple local authorities need to be banged into one - much as occurred in Christ-church in 1989, and subsequently with the amalgamation of Banks Peninsula District and Christchurch City Council early last year.

"In Auckland they have had their water system fail, they have had their road system fail, they have had their electricity system fail. They have now had their waste system thrown out through the court. It's because they don't plan ahead and they don't work together."

Longer-term, though, he ponders the need for more radical thinking. "How far do you allow a city like Auckland to become the only city in New Zealand? And at what stage do you say, actually, it's uneconomic for Porirua or Wellington or Christchurch or wherever to stay open because everyone is living in Auckland? The rest of us are carrying the costs.

"At some stage in New Zealand we actually have to say the infrastructural costs of Auckland are so substantial, should we be putting incentives in place for people to live in places like Hastings, Napier, Palmerston North, Christchurch or Invercargill ... It may be cheaper than the whole of the country having to subsidise Auckland. I'm not saying it's the answer. But no one's asking the question."

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