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Wards stay, council proposal is rejected

The risk of urban voters and candidates dominating elections has been given as one of the reasons for a decision by the Local Government Commission to reject Gisborne District Council’s proposal for representation at the local body elections later this year.

Instead the commission has opted for the status quo of 13 councillors — four of them representing rural wards — and the Mayor instead of the council’s proposal of nine nouncillors, voted for “at large”, and the Mayor.

The commission has also rejected the council’s proposal for three community boards, eastern and western rural ones and a Gisborne city board.

In its decision released today the commission says statistics show that 74 percent of electors live in the Gisborne city ward and 26 percent in the rural wards. “The preponderance of urban voters must at least create a risk of urban voters and candidates dominating elections,” the commission says.

“On balance we are attracted to the existing ward structure as one that would best provide effective representation of communities of interest.

“The reasons cited in the commission’s 2012 determination appear to us to remain relevant today.”

The commission says a smaller council would potentially create difficulties for the council in its capacity as a unitary authority.

It notes that other unitary authorities of broadly similar population and geographic spread, Marlborough and Tasman, both have 13 members.

In rejecting the establishment of community boards, the commission says it has concerns about adopting the council’s proposal at this time.

It is unsure that with the retention of wards there would be a sufficient commitment by all parties to doing all that is necessary to establish a strong community board system.

Second, the commission says it has concerns about the level of public engagement in the development of the community board proposal.

“From the evidence we have seen, the notion did not feature in the preliminary discussion carried out by the council.

“Community boards were not included in any of the initial representation options considered by the council and there was no consultation on the proposition.

‘Great news, a victory for rural people'“We acknowledge that five submissions sought the establishment of community boards, however this by itself does not constitute a strong mandate for such a significant change in the district.”

It recommends that if the council wishes to establish community boards through a future review, it carries out extensive engagement with communities at the beginning of the process.

Mayor Meng Foon says he is pleased the commission has made a decision.

“Now we can move forward with certainty of the boundaries and number of councillors for the 2019 election,” he said.

“I think it is important that rural communities have a say and are represented at the council table.

“Just because the communities don’t meet the law of plus or minus 10 percent, they still have a right of representation.

“The commission has told the council that we need to consult more if we are to promote changes going into the future.

“I am happy with the decision as it is fair for all, and that the unitary authority has been recognised as important for our region — as it was the first unitary authority to be regulated.

“I want to acknowledge all the people who submitted at the hearings of the commission last year. Your voices were heard,” he said.

The decision has been welcomed by rural councillors.

Tawhiti-Uawa ward member Pat Seymour said clearly the commission had listened to the voices of the community and determined that it was important to continue to have representation for the isolated rural communities and wider district around the council table, not via a watered-down community board structure.

That was the exact point submitters in opposition to the council’s proposal made at the hearing.

Matakaoa-Waiapu ward councillor Bill Burdett said this was great news and a victory for rural people. It would allow the council to have input from people who lived in the more remote rural areas and knew their needs.

Deputy Mayor Rehette Stoltz, who chaired the council’s discussion on representation, said the Local Government Commission had clear rules and guidelines that directed councils in their decision-making on their representation.

“As a council, we were required to come up with an option that complies with these rules,” she said.

“The status quo does not comply with the +/-10 percent rule, and that is why we had to work for months to alter our representation arrangements.

“We were aiming at improving and future-proofing representation whilst complying with their requirements.

“The commission chose an option that was not available to us as it is non-compliant, but they are the final decision-makers with the discretionary power to make those decisions, and we respect their findings,” she said.

District Council chief executive Nedine Thatcher-Swann said: “It has been a robust community debate and now that the commission has made its determination for the district, we can turn our attention to local body elections and increasing voter participation.”

GDC and public to choose a way forward. File picture