Home Supporting structure Local Government Commission hears appeals over Rotorua Council of Lakes wards structure

Local Government Commission hears appeals over Rotorua Council of Lakes wards structure

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Jude Pani, general manager of Te Tatau or Te Arawa. Photo/Andrew Warner

The chief executive of Rotorua Council’s iwi partnership group said the council had scrapped its final ward structure “from scratch”.

The comment was made by Jude Pani of Te Tatau o Te Arawa during the Local Government Commission hearing into the Rotorua Council of Lakes representation review on Wednesday.

It follows the council’s adoption of a ward structure with one Maori ward seat, one headquarters seat and eight general seats.

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick said Te Tatau was “told” about the model the day before it was released.

The commission heard the appellants to the council’s decision and can reverse it. The council’s pursuit of a change in law to allow a model with three Maori ward seats and three headquarters and four district general seats is a separate process.

Pani’s presentation to the four commissioners said there was a lack of consultation on the final model with both Te Tatau and the wider community and “too much emphasis on vote parity”.

“It’s like all of a sudden the goal post has changed and what we were looking at…and what we thought we were participating in was completely gone.

“The final proposal came out of nowhere regarding Te Tatau.

“All of a sudden we have this ‘voting parity’. I listened to the [submission hearings and] I never find the emphasis on vote parity.”

She said Te Arawa whanui understood that maximizing seats at the council table came at the cost of reducing the number of candidates Maori-listed people could vote for, but it was worth it.

“[It’s] the decision-making power they wanted, not in the individual vote.”

Pani said these were important discussions about restoring equity centered on the perspective of those whose equity was being restored.

She said potential candidates from the Maori quarter had told her that they would not stand in the Maori quarter if there was only one seat because the weight of the responsibility of representing all Maori in the single district would be too heavy.

Appellants Mike McVicker, Reynold Macpherson and David McPherson also argued for a model of three Maori quarter seats and seven headquarters seats.

McVicker said democracy had been “totally ignored” and “race-based” neighborhoods could “only divide our community.”

“One can only conclude that the council is prioritizing the demand for co-governance over democracy.”

He said Maori already had a “very high level of representation” on Rotorua District Council.

Macpherson said the provisional council model violated citizens’ democratic and civil rights to equal suffrage because it gave those on the Maori list 2.6 times the voting power of those in the headquarters, because the population of the ward Maori is smaller than headquarters.

Commissioner Bonita Bigham asked Macpherson if the council was taking away anyone’s right to vote, which was an understanding of equal suffrage, and Macpherson said votes should have equal value.

Macpherson said the Maori neighborhood seat model also surprised him.

“There was no warning or prior discussion.”

Three callers – Rotorua Rural Community Board Chair Shirley Trumper, Alan Wills and Federated Farmers representatives Colin Guyton and Shaun Hazelton – pleaded for the inclusion of a rural neighborhood.

Rotorua Rural Community Council Chair Shirley Trumper.  Photo/Andrew Warner
Rotorua Rural Community Council Chair Shirley Trumper. Photo/Andrew Warner

Trumper said there was a gap in the council’s knowledge of rural issues that could only be filled by a rural ward councilor who had lived experience in the rural community.

She said it was difficult for someone to be elected to the rural community council because the population was small compared to the urban population.

Hazelton said the Rural Community Council should be an additional resource, “not a substitute for a councillor”.

He believed there had been a decline in decision-making supporting the rural community due to the lack of a rural voice at the council table, and said members of Federated Farmers in Rotorua felt ” ignored and misunderstood”.

Appellant Justin Adams told commissioners there should be an increase in the number of councilors from 10.

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick, Deputy Mayor Dave Donaldson and Councilor Mercia Yates provided council with a Right of Reply, along with the District’s Deputy Chief Executive of Leadership and Democracy Oonagh Hopkins and Solicitor for the counsel, Lachlan Muldowney.

Donaldson said the rural council was “not a broken model”, was efficient and there was already a rural councilor – Fisher Wang.

He said comments on representation were “overwhelmingly in favor of keeping 10 councillors”.

Hopkins said the representation review process was “very thorough and robust”, and as it has been done in the closures it was difficult, but the council had done everything possible to reach out to the community. .

She said that after representation review hearings and a closed-door elected members’ forum, officials were asked to “consider comments on parity and equality.”

This, together with legal advice, resulted in the Maori neighborhood seat model which was “legal and met parity requirements”.

Muldowney said the concept of parity “really came through the consultation process.”

Yates said that Ngāti Whakaue, in his submission, “insisted that parity should go into it as well”.

Chadwick said she met with Te Tatau o Te Arawa President Te Taru White the day before a committee meeting where the model was first discussed in public.

“They have been informed.”

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick.  Photo/Andrew Warner
Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick. Photo/Andrew Warner

She said Ngāti Whakaue’s submission on the representation review and call for voter parity was a “lightbulb moment”.

“That’s when the conversation changed.”

Donaldson said the Ngāti Whakaue “must carry weight” as they were mana whenua of the township and said that Te Tatau o Te Arawa, as the māngai (spokesperson) of the Māori population and iwi at large, ” was returned” to Ngāti Whakaue.

Bigham questioned if this was true, as Te Tatau did not state so in his written or verbal appeal.

She also asked if the council thought the commission should “raise the voice of Ngāti Whakaue for the township above that of Te Tatau o Te Arawa for the rohe”, and Yates said the council could not determine that. .

Bigham said: “But that’s what your thinking about the final proposal meant, that a seat [model] was based on Ngāti Whakaue wanting parity – but we heard another side of the story from Te Tatau.”

The commission will make a final decision on Rotorua’s governance model by April 10.

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