The Tauranga City Council has decided not to hold a referendum on whether to establish a Māori ward after a heated debate this morning.
Elected members also turned down a proposal to poll residents on whether they would prefer a pay-as-you-throw option in plans for kerbside waste collection, and whether the council should continue its use of the STV voting system.
Fireworks erupted early.
Richard Prince was among the first to speak in a public submission to the council, pleading to elected members to vote for a referendum regarding
Māori wards in front of a packed public gallery.
Prince said the initial decision to establish one was made by six elected members.
On August 25, Tauranga City Council voted 6-4 to establish the ward for the next council election in 2022.
Those elected members who voted in favour were now-former-mayor Tenby Powell, deputy mayor Tina Salisbury, councillors Jako Abrie, Heidi Hughes, Bill Grainger, Larry Baldock. Those who voted against were councillors John Robson, Andrew Hollis, Steve Morris, Kelvin Clout. Dawn Kiddie abstained.
"You have 90,000 people as your voting public, about 60,000-odd ratepayers. Where do they fit in this?" Prince asked.
Prince told elected members to take ownership and vote for the referendum because their previous decision was "unacceptable".
"Support your community," he said.
Prince was followed by Rob Paterson who also pleaded for elected members for a vote for the referendum, warning that if they didn't "some residents and ratepayers have long memories, They will remember if you go against this".
As Paterson ended, jeers and heckles burst from the public gallery and mayor Tenby Powell was forced to call for a point of order to simmer the rising tension.
Councillor Larry Baldock questioned Prince about his reference to the community being ignored and neglected by the council.
"We are your community," someone called out to Prince.
"Turn around and look at your community."
Another speaker, Buddy Mikaere, asked elected members to maintain their original decision to establish the Māori ward. He pleaded those elected members who voted against it to change their mind.
"Let me assure you the majority of people in this room won't forget. In two years, we will remember," he said.
"The world is turning, it's changing. You four councillors are in danger of being left behind and swept aside like yesterday's falling leaves."
As Mikaere spoke, Western Bay of Plenty District councillor Margaret Murray-Benge and friend stood in protest.
At the end of his speech, Mikaere stood - unaware of the protest behind him - and sang the New Zealand national anthem in te reo.
All elected members and council staff, and most of the public gallery, joined in.
Councillor Bill Grainger spoke of his earlier vote in favour of establishing a
"I remember that day, yes I was a little hesitant and maybe ... my tide had turned. But I made that [decision]. I stand by that, I stand by what I voted for.
"I've heard of this term 'flip-flop' and manipulation. To me, I'm sorry to say, I feel this Notice of Motion is part of that. I'm not in support of that".
Councillor Kelvin Clout prompted applause from the public gallery when he announced a U-turn in his support for a Māori ward.
In August, Clout voted against establishing the ward but told the council today he was now in support of it and would vote against holding the referendum.
As councillor Andrew Hollis spoke to his vote for the referendum, referring to a Māori ward as "tokenism" jeers burst from the public gallery again.
As the disquiet continued, Murray-Benge called out she couldn't hear because of the "rabble", sparking an eruption from the public gallery.
Members of the public in the gallery called out: "We're not rabble".
Resident Colleen Spiro turned around and confronted Murray-Benge saying "who are you calling 'rabble'?,"
Powell called for calm and asked people to allow Hollis to continue in his speech.
Murray-Benge said she did not mean to infer Māori ward supporters were 'rabble'.
Powell said the issue was "about equity, not equality. There's a lack of equity in Tauranga Moana. It's about making sure that people get access to the same opportunities."
He said fixing the Mauao base track was an example of working together of successfully including Māori in council business.
The votes for all three referendum proposals failed.
Former councillor Jako Abrie attended to watch the proceedings.
He said after the meeting that he was pleased with the result and that he felt elected members had "made the right decision".
Abrie played a pivotal role in the council's August decision on a Māori ward.
Today, he said Grainger had it right when he referred to the world changing. Now it was up to Tauranga to do likewise, he said.