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Rural ward should be reconsidered

Editorial

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.

  1. A McKellow says:

    Well put Jeremy.
    The disappointing element of council’s decision is the lack of foresight by urban councillors, with their eye more on chances of re-election rather than representation.
    Council bureaucrats presented 4 options to them. Rather than being spoon fed, councillors should have looked for other options when it is obvious that none of the 4 options would work in the best interests of the district.
    We elect councillors to question, research and think outside of the square …. not just accept in this case non-viable options presented.
    None of the above should have been their answer to the multi-choice options presented.
    It is a sad reflection that the cumulative intelligence of those 7 councillors failed to search for other options…..that are available.
    Their actions are causing division in the community.
    Instead we have an opportunity here to lead NZ and show inclusiveness and how local authority representation at its best could look like.

    1. Toby Williams says:

      Thank you Jeremy
      Your support on this matter is fantastic. It is not over yet and we intend to keep pushing rural voices are important in our region.

  2. Clive Bibby says:

    I agree.
    However, while you’re at it, given that after the next local body election it is more than likely that the General (urban) ward will have at least two councillors of Maori decent, we should be limiting the number of guaranteed Maori positions around the council table to a total of five, irrespective of which ward they come from.
    At each future election, the total number of successful Maori candidates could be drawn from all wards but not necessarily having to come from the Maori ward.
    Doing it like this is a more democratic way of satisfying the demand for greater Maori representation that would ensure a stronger Maori voice.
    The electoral system adopted could be flexible enough to ensure the 5 Maori councillors are guaranteed but this would be a fairer way of eliminating the possibility for Maori gaining a majority due to gerrymandered over-representation.
    It would mean that each issue is dealt with by full council on the basis of merit, not determined by ethnic preference.