Firstly, I want to acknowledge the Tuia 250 crew.  The weekend was a success.  My family enjoyed the MV Takitimu and our time on Te Tairāwhiti, our waka hourua. That waka is a treasure.  Kei te mihi.

This week in council we had the Local Government Commission hearings for the representation review model.

To recap, the council’s preferred model that went to the Commission for review and community feedback was a reduction in councillors from thirteen to nine, election of councillors to be at large as an entire district, and the establishment of three local boards, one in the North East, one in the West, and one in the city.

A few months ago I wrote about the proposed representation review and encouraged people to submit on it.  Today we heard from some of those who objected to the proposal.

One of the concerns was in opposition to the at-large election.  The concern was that the councillor seats would be entirely occupied by city people because the majority of the population lives in the city. An alternative solution that a few objectors brought up was having the city ward, with eight councillors, and one at-large rural ward with three councillors.  However, there’s an unequal spread of population in our rural area too, and by the former logic, all the rural councillors could come from one area and the other rural voices may miss out.

I wrote in my previous representation review opinion piece that we tried to move boundary lines around to make the population numbers compliant for our rural areas to each have a councillor, but that meant Hexton and Wainui was included with the coast; which is nonsense. However, Community Boards are not determined by population numbers, but by communities of interest.  A big driver for my support of Community Boards was maintaining the distinctly different and unique voices of our rural communities. Something we weren’t able to guarantee under any other model.  Boards seemed the most logical compromise to me.

The opposition to Community Boards was it’s hard for objectors to support it because they didn’t know what powers, or roles the Community Board would have.  There were concerns that the boards could be toothless.  These are fair concerns.  I have had my own experience of being on a toothless board, which led to us feeling like we were just tinkering around the edges and not progressing anything.

However, creating the finer detail of the operation of Community Boards is putting the cart before the horse.  In the creation of the Community Boards we should hear from our interested communities.  We should publicly debate this in chambers and make the reports accessible. This should be a considered process that involves the voices of all interested parties.  A considered process is time intensive and I am opposed to spending council worker’s time, and more importantly, wasting the community’s time and effort on how the representation model will work when the commission hasn’t confirmed what the representation model will be yet.  It’s too premature.

Council’s proposed model is definitely not a given. The Commissioners heavily interrogated the thinking and rationale behind council’s proposal by asking tough and probing questions.  They asked clarifying questions of the objectors to really understand their perspectives.  This was not a passive engagement by any means. 

I’d like to thank the Commission.  I think everyone was treated fairly. I commend the objectors who spoke. Having a voice is high on my list, thank you for sharing yours.

The Local Government Commission has the final say.  We will all be waiting to hear what it is.

As always Te Tairāwhiti, whether we agree or not, I am proud to serve you.