Focus on the Land
Public has its say on council representation
Thursday, July 05, 2012
CONFLICTING views on how Gisborne District Council should prepare its case for representation to the Local Government Commission were heard during nearly four hours of submissions yesterday.
The main disputes centred on the council’s recommendation to retain the status quo for the number of councillors and ward boundaries, whether to have community boards and Maori wards and the relative benefits of the STV (single transferable vote) and FPP (First Past the Post) voting systems.
On behalf of the Wainui-Okitu Residents and Ratepayers Association Norman Weiss asked the council to create a community board there. The area was distinct from the city, had a community of interest and wanted to work with the council rather than struggle against it.
Federated Farmers spokesman Hamish Cave said the current 8-6 split of rural and urban councillors was fair. He urged the council to be mindful of representation issues such as the geographical one of large rural wards.
Meredith Akuhata-Brown thought the ratio of rural to urban councillors was unfair. There was also a lack of diversity on the council and she objected to the status quo being retained.
Clive Bibby congratulated the council for its decision to retain the status quo rather than the more PC version some were advocating.
Fair representation depended more than anything else on the abilities of the ward member, said Mr Bibby. Because this factor was so important in the representation equation, increasing the number of elected members to represent the urban sector would not necessarily improve the service.
On the other hand, reducing the number of rural wards in the rural sector would result in a poorer service because there was only so much a representative could do with such large areas to canvass. It was “a no-brainer”.
In his own ward of Uawa they were particularly fortunate to be represented by an outstanding councillor in Pat Seymour. She had earned the bulk of the community’s support simply through hard work, and represented all her constituents irrespective of cultural background, social standing or economic clout.
Former council corporate services manager Douglas Birt said once the council established one community board it would open the floodgates and there could be up to 10 of them at a cost of $220,000.
He did not know how the council would contain it and did not believe the present system was fair to low-income people in Gisborne.
Former city councillor Allan Brown said he was on the transition committee when the district council was established and there was no agreement — written or oral — that the rural ward boundaries would not change.
The rural councillors seemed to run rings around the city ones. He saw no pressing need for urban and rural councillors and did not think rural people would suffer from not having a person representing them.
Dr Jenny Haare Hindmarsh opposed the status quo proposal and asked that other alternatives, including the near compliant model, be researched with public involvement and consultation. She also asked that if the council did not reverse its decision to retain the first past the post electoral system that it hold a poll for residents on the options of STV and FPP at the 2013 local body elections.
She wanted the council to hold proper consultation on the issue of Maori representation and supported the establishment of community boards.
Peter Farley said the council was grotesquely unfair in representative terms. The number of councillors was excessive and unnecessary.
While he had little hope of turkeys voting for an early Christmas he believed the number of councillors should be reduced to six — four for Gisborne city and two rural ones. This would still leave Uawa, Waiapu and Matakaoa over-represented. The rationale for retaining the status quo did not stand up to scrutiny.
Ron Elder said the case that there had been an agreement not to change the rural wards had been debunked. There was no agreement. The public had been misled in the pamphlet distributed by the council.
He supported the near compliant alternative and said the present situation was “a gerrymander”, and that some voters were more equal than others.
The STV voting system had been shown to be more democratic, he said.
Speaking for Te Runanga o Turanganui-a- Kiwa, Jody Toroa asked the council to include community boards, adopt the STV system and establish Maori wards. That was vital to establish fair representation around the council table.
Clare Radomske said representation was another word for democracy. He did not support community boards or Maori wards, saying “we are over-governed to death.” There was plenty of room for people to be represented under the committee system.
Heather Marion Smith (on behalf of Social Credit) also said the STV system was fairer. It would save by-elections. If someone was sick or stood down the next person could be asked to take the seat.
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