Western Bay councillor Margaret Murray-Benge has vowed to mobilise resistance on the decision to introduce separate Maori seats for the district's 2019 and 2022 elections.
The council voted 9-3 yesterday to guarantee Maori representation by establishing one or more Maori wards.
"I will make sure that people have the right to a poll," Murray-Benge said at the end of her speech in which she likened Maori wards to apartheid.
"I am not going to say it is okay to segregate you out," she told a meeting that drew an audience of nearly 50 mainly Maori spectators.
The councillor said the wards were a backwards step and she vowed to participate in gathering the 1708 signatures needed to force a district-wide poll of residents. The trigger for a poll was signatures from 5 per cent of Western Bay residents on the electoral roll.
The results of polls on Maori wards were binding by law in New Zealand.
Murray-Benge used the occasion to take a swipe at her council colleagues. After outlining her 40-year career in local government politics and how she was currently the only woman on the Western Bay council, she said she had been unable to get a chairmanship on the council.
"Equality is not alive and well in the Western Bay."
The debate among councillors was preceded by presentations from Maori members of the council's Tauranga Moana/Te Arawa Ki Takutai partnership forum.
Reon Tuanau said Maori representation on the council was about addressing equity and fairness. "Compelling reasons for change are based on reality and not rhetoric," he said.
Representation by Maori wards would lead to a meaningful relationship and full partnership. There was a new political reality in the post-Treaty landscape and a greater appetite for change in central and local government.
"Do we want to be in sync with this new economic and social reality?''
Kevin Tohiariki said he acknowledged there were "gorillas in the room" who used arguments based on negative separatism and anti-democratic rhetoric. The reality was that Maori wards were the opposite of separatism and embraced partnership.
A member of the public who asked for speaking rights, Christina Humphreys of Katikati, said Maori wards were not democratic and the issue would just about get a lynch mob at Katikati.
Former Western Bay councillor Norm Mayo of Katikati said the council was, in his view, demeaning Maori by giving them a backdoor entrance through Maori wards.
He said he had a lot of Maori and pakeha mates and he did not differentiate them on the grounds of religion or skin colour.
Mayor Garry Webber said the council needed to determine communities of interest and effective and fair representation.
He echoed the majority of other councillors when he said the creation of Maori wards was the most effective way to get maximum contribution by Maori into decision-making.
The old order had changed and the old worn net was being set aside to go fishing with a new net, he said.
If a poll was unsuccessful, the number of Maori wards would be decided as part of the council's overall representation review next year. Maori comprise about 15 per cent of the district's population.
A public poll on Maori seats
Deadline for demand for poll: February 21, 2018.
Deadline for poll: May 21, 2018