Last week in council we spent the week in hearings, listening to the community about our priorities. We heard submissions on sports parks, rates and roads but I would like to focus on the Representation Review.

On Thursday council voted to change the make up of councillors in the next election. In a nutshell, council voted to reduce the numbers of councillors from thirteen down to nine. The mayor would bring the number of our council to ten. There is also the addition of three community boards; one in the East, one in the West and one in the city. The other change is an at large election, meaning that there will be no wards and the entire district will vote for all councillors.

Under the old model we were legally obliged to draw boundaries based on population. This meant that in order to retain the old model we had to include areas like Hexton and Wainui in with the coast to make the numbers work. Any sensible person can immediately see that those areas don’t have anything to do with the coast so it doesn’t make sense for them to be included with the coast as a ward.

However community board boundaries are not dictated by legalities. We can draw those lines based on communities of interest. The three identified areas; the east, the west and the city are all distinct and unique communities of interest and we can draw those boundaries to suit our district. The people inside those respective board boundaries will get to vote for their board.

The East Coast community board will be made up of two members from the Matakaoa-Waiapu area and two members from the Tawhiti-Uawa area. The Western Rural community board will be made up of two members from the Taruheru-Patutahi area and two members from the Waipaoa area.

Rural voices will definitely be heard through the establishment of community boards.

I think our councillors being voted at large is a great move forward for several reasons. To me, by standing for election a person is declaring that they are putting themselves forward for everyone and everywhere in our region. If you are voted in and live in the city then by design you are also representing the other former ward areas.

There are also many people in our community who feel like they belong to multiple areas of our district so they can now vote for the many different people from the many different areas that they think might represent them. We have always said we are district councillors, now the district can actually vote for what their entire council will look like.

This won’t be a silver bullet that will all of a sudden solve our representation issues but I think it’s the best decision for our region. I am in favour of this new model. The old model meant we had to tinker around the edges of each ward far too much to comply with the law. We were being told that we would have to include areas like Hexton and Wainui in with the coast in order to make the numbers work. A decision like that doesn’t make any sense to me.

This model of representation will be open for submissions for one month. If you want to appeal it or object to it then I implore you to submit. In the event that appeals or objections are received, the Local Government Commission will determine any matters arising. For transparencies sake the determination of those submissions does not sit with councillors.

As always, privileged to serve you Tairāwhiti.