What makes Gary Simp­son tick?

Porirua City Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive Gary Simp­son has just com­pleted four years in the job. He talks to Kris Dando about the su­percity dis­cus­sions, rates and how he spends his down­time.

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS -

After 20 years at Porirua City Coun­cil, then three years at Kapiti Coast Dis­trict Coun­cil, why did you re­turn to Porirua in 2010?

I en­joyed my time in Kapiti, but my links with Porirua are very strong. It [the chief ex­ec­u­tive role in Porirua] was some­thing I had wanted for a long time and I re­ally thought I had missed the op­por­tu­nity. I left not ex­pect­ing to ever be back, but Roger [Blake­ley] left after 10 years and I put my name for­ward.

What are the dif­fer­ences be­tween Porirua and Kapiti, from a coun­cil per­spec­tive?

Porirua is a big city with its sub­urbs, while Kapiti is more a group of in­di­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ties, with com­mu­nity boards. The boards are like coun­cils in their own right.

How has your role changed, from gen­eral man­ager the first time to chief ex­ec­u­tive now?

In my first 20 years here, it was a time of great in­vest­ment in Porirua. I was at the cen­tre of things like the build­ing of the Aquatic Cen­tre, Porirua Park and the early days of Te Rau­paraha Arena. Now, it’s about lim­it­ing cost and im­prov­ing ef­fi­ciency, get­ting more out of what you’ve got. The land­scape has cer­tainly changed.

Do the de­ci­sions you have to make keep you awake at night?

If they did, you’d have to be ask­ing se­ri­ous ques­tions of your­self. You can do this job or you can’t. I’ve been lucky – we have some great staff here who work hard for this com­mu­nity.

Do you see the front­line staff much?

When I started as chief ex­ec­u­tive, I ex­pected to get out there reg­u­larly. But I don’t do it as of­ten as I’d like. My cal­en­dar is pretty con­strained.

What are your big­gest likes and dis­likes about the role?

I just re­ally en­joy this job. I like see­ing the growth of peo­ple and of the city. It can be ex­tremely re­ward­ing to watch peo­ple get things done. The job is not with­out its chal­lenges and there are things you can’t con­trol. I would like to fix ev­ery prob­lem I come across, but you know that can’t al­ways hap­pen — I some­times get dis­ap­pointed with the vit­riol that gets di­rected to­wards the coun­cil, but it rarely comes my way.

You must grind your teeth any­time some­one men­tions Porirua’s high rates?

The sin­gle big­gest fact about rates is that what they cost in Porirua is pretty fair com­pared to lo­cal bod­ies around the coun­try. We have sig­nif­i­cantly fewer rate­able prop­er­ties — Kapiti has 51,000 peo­ple and 25,000 rate­able prop­er­ties, and Porirua has a pop­u­la­tion of 53,000 but only 17,000 rate­able prop­er­ties. Sev­enty-four per cent of our op­er­at­ing bud­get comes from rates, com­pared with the na­tional av­er­age of 62 per cent and Auck­land’s is in the mid-40s be­cause they have other rev­enue sources. We’re spend­ing 85 per cent of our cap­i­tal bud­get on in­fra­struc­ture and it doesn’t leave a lot for the ‘‘nice to have’’ stuff.

What are the ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture costs com­ing up?

The sewage treat­ment plant needs a ma­jor ex­pan­sion and we want to spend more on our road­ing net­work. A huge chal­lenge will be the com­ing [10-year] longterm plan. We need to set some mean­ing­ful things in place and make some very tough de­ci­sions.

Does the su­per- city talk en­ter your thoughts much?

Not right now, but this coun­cil made it clear of our support for the re­gional coun­cil’s stance on hav­ing one city for the re­gion. At the end of Oc­to­ber the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Com­mis­sion will make its rec­om­men­da­tion and that will start dis­cus­sions again. Porirua join­ing Ca­pac­ity, now Wellington Wa­ter, was a ma­jor achieve­ment. I don’t think the pub­lic fully un­der­stand the mag­ni­tude of it yet. We’re hav­ing th­ese [su­percity] dis­cus­sions across the CEOs in the re­gion and it’s an in­cred­i­bly healthy fo­rum to do it in.

How is work­ing with Nick Leggett?

It’s been fine since the start. We work closely to­gether. There are times when we don’t agree, but for the most part we have a good re­la­tion­ship. The good thing about Nick is that he recog­nises what I and the coun­cil staff are here to do. I’m not try­ing to be mayor and he doesn’t want to be chief ex­ec­u­tive.

You must have seen some real char­ac­ters come and go on this coun­cil?

I’ve al­ways had re­spect for the elected mem­bers who put up their hands, be­cause it’s a pretty thank­less task. Some have been bril­liant and some not so great, but I’ve never seen any who have been in­dif­fer­ent.

You still live in Pukerua Bay? What do you do in your down­time?

Yes, still liv­ing there. It’s a great spot to un­wind. I’m a mem­ber at Para­pa­raumu Beach Golf Club, have been for some time. My hand­i­cap is maybe 9, slid­ing into 10, and I try to get out once a week, with no prac­tice. I’ve al­ways en­joyed gar­den­ing. It’s some­thing that re­laxes me. I love to travel. I read mostly fic­tion — Tim Win­ton is a favourite, along with James Lee Burke. I’ve read all of Hen­ning Mankell’s books. I read plenty of non-fic­tion at work.

Photo: KRIS DANDO

Gary Simp­son: ‘‘I’m not try­ing to be mayor and he [Nick Leggett] doesn’t want to be chief ex­ec­u­tive.’’

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