Rural ward should be reconsidered
City ward councillors who have block-voted to end the rural ward structure in place since the county councils were amalgamated into Gisborne District Council 32 years ago have not presented a coherent or convincing rationale for their decision. There is still time to try better, or to reassess.
To say that the retention of two of the now four rural councillors, through splitting the new general ward, would not be adequate to represent the rural sector was certainly the silliest argument put forward at Wednesday's meeting.
Others pointing to how the rural sector was well-organised, represented and active in the submission process followed closely, as city councillors thumbed their noses at the overwhelming call from rural submitters to retain representation that has served them well — possibly never better than the current crop of rural councillors.
A good point raised is that the council had heard from the farming community, but submissions were not representative of the rural sector as a whole. The response to that, from a council really interested in getting its representation setting right — and not having its proposal overturned by the Local Government Commission again — would be to canvas the rural townships, and also speak to some forestry owners.
An additional point that our rural areas include multiple communities, none with the population or geographical density to warrant a ward, overlooks that these communities do face many shared issues and concerns that are different to those of city residents.
It is notable that both the Mayor and her deputy (a lone voice among city councillors) supported the four rural councillors and would have voted for a split of city (six councillors) and rural (two councillors) for the general ward if they had not already been outvoted.
The fact the rural sector still contributes a big chunk of the council's rates take — 35.7 percent — is also relevant to this debate.
Your editor would add that our experience over the years reporting on Long-Term Plan consultation rounds is that rural meetings get much better attendance, relatively, from their populations. And, more pertinently here, the ward councillor and sometimes others (generally the incumbent Mayor and very occasionally the odd interested city-ward councillor) are also there. At city meetings, attendance by city ward councillors often underwhelms.
The final representation review vote is in four weeks, followed by a five-week appeal period.