Editorial: Controversial but deserved

22:33, Jan 13 2014

At a local government conference last August, Prime Minister John Key made a heartfelt public tribute to then-mayor of Christchurch Bob Parker.

Parker had not long beforehand announced, after an uproar about the management of the city council, that he would not seek a third term as mayor.

Key looked past that, however, to concentrate on Parker's leadership of Christchurch during the bleak days of the aftermath of the earthquakes.

In his tribute, the prime minister said: "His commitment to the city during its darkest hours will be his legacy."

The prime minister has now made those words tangible with the recognition of Parker's work in a knighthood announced today in the New Year Honours list. It is an entirely appropriate honour. It is also likely to provoke some controversy.

The honour is appropriate because no matter what had gone before or was to come afterwards, nothing can detract from Parker's performance as the leader of the city at the time when it most needed it.


The citation for the honour talks of Parker's services to local body affairs and the community as mayor of Christchurch and of, earlier, Banks Peninsula.

But it rightly points to his role after the earthquakes: "He fronted the media coverage of the two disasters and the ensuing civil emergencies to local and international media. His calm leadership throughout the emergency periods were noted for providing reassurance and hope to the people of Christchurch."

Parker has always divided opinion. Before the first earthquake of September 2010 he was well on the way to losing the imminent mayoral election because of public disgruntlement over what many saw as his high-handed and secretive conduct of city council business and such matters as the masterminding of imprudent council investments in the Ellerslie Flower Show and property bought from financially troubled developer David Henderson.

After the crisis period of the earthquakes was over and the recovery began, cracks in the council's management emerged, particularly in the performance of city manager Tony Marryatt.

Parker remained loyal to Marryatt beyond the point when that was wise and ultimately paid the price for it.

When a plausible contender for the mayoralty emerged in the form of Lianne Dalziel, on whom all those opposed to Parker could concentrate, Parker admitted defeat and decided to withdraw from the contest.

Not everything for which Parker copped the blame was his fault. The mayor is, after all, only one vote out of 13 at the council table, and one valid criticism was that he divided rather than united the others.

However, the mayor's role is one of governance - the failings of management were not directly of his making. In addition, critics in local body politics can be venomous.

Nowhere is that more true than in Christchurch - some of the criticism Parker attracted was unfair and disproportionate.

Many, however, will no doubt say that the controversial nature of all this would have disqualified anyone else from an honour. Certainly, without the earthquakes his career as a local-body politician, long and hard-working as it has been, would not have been enough on its own to deserve one.

But the undeniable fact is that, when the crisis struck, Parker stepped up to the task and did it brilliantly. Some say that any mayor would have had to front for the city.

That may well be true but it is easy enough to think of some who would have made a botch of it and it is hard to think of many who would have done it so well.

It is interesting to note here that, outside Christchurch, where most people know Parker largely from that role, regard for him is high. Fronting for the cameras was also only part of the job.

Parker played a decisive role, largely unnoticed at the time, in organising the crisis response in the first crucial days and weeks after February 22.

The stuff that went before or came later cannot be allowed to detract from that singular achievement. It alone was sufficient to deserve the knighthood.