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Councillor cull

The number of district councillors will be slashed and there will no longer be wards — that is the prospect after Gisborne District Council yesterday completely changed its proposal for the six-yearly representation review.

The recommendations adopted by the council would see three community boards established for the Coast, western and city parts of the district.

The number of councillors would be reduced from the present 13 and the Mayor to a new council of from eight to 10 councillors plus a Mayor.

Staff will now prepare a report on the preferred option to be put forward for confirmation at a full council meeting next Thursday.

The initial proposal on which public consultation was held — for five wards, an extra city ward member and a boundary change that would have seen Hexton/Makauri moved into the Tawhiti/Uawa ward, was not supported.

A number of submissions received after public consultation had called for fewer councillors and the establishment of community boards. That was supported in submissions made at the meeting.

During deliberations, the council also considered an option of three wards without community boards but was told that would not comply with the 10 percent fair representation requirement under the Local Electoral Act.

Councillors gave themselves a round of applause after lengthy deliberations, with long-serving councillor Brian Wilson describing it as a “momentous change.”

Deputy mayor Rehette Stoltz, who chaired the meeting, thanked councillors for the respectful way they had treated the discussion.

Speaking after the debate, she said it had been a full and detailed exercise in which the council had gone through the staff report and the seven recommendations it contained line by line.

This was the best way to deal with such a complicated issue and it was good that councillors had been able to reach a unanimous decision at the end of a discussion that extended for nearly four hours.

The next stage will come at Thursday’s council meeting when the staff, having received clear guidance from the council, returns with the draft proposal for adoption by the council.

Because it is different from the proposal on which they publicly consulted, people will be able to submit again or object.

Councillors expressed support for community boards despite a Western Bay of Plenty report that they had been less effective than thought and their numbers around the country had decreased.

Councillors emphasised that the success of a community board depended on how it was structured and its agreed delegated authority, as well as how it was supported by councillors.

Waiapu ward member Bill Burdett expressed concern that an at-large election would see the Coast “swamped” but other councillors said this would be overcome by the establishment of community boards.

The council spent some time discussing what would be an ideal number of councillors, with most favouring nine before settling on a figure of between eight and 10 for staff to work with in regards to the final proposal.

During the debate, it was said that people in the city represented a community of interest as much as rural residents. Community boards were seen as a way of involving more people in council affairs and increasing democracy.

Councillors were told that there could be a minimum of four and a maximum of 12 on community boards and although the council could appoint some members, elected members must always exceed the number of appointed ones.

The point was made that the cost of administering and electing community boards would be offset by the savings made in reducing the number of councillors.

Rural councillors Pat Seymour and Graeme Thomson, as well as Mayor Meng Foon, were absent from the meeting.?

Internal partnerships director James Baty said an objection could be lodged by any person or organisation with the Local Government Commission when a local authority’s final proposal differed from its initial proposal. The objection had to identify the matters to which the objection related.

Gisborne District Council building. File picture