Tauranga City Council commissioners have unanimously voted to establish a Māori ward, becoming one of the first New Zealand councils to do so since the controversial legislation around it was tweaked earlier this year.
Commissioners met today to discuss whether to adopt a recommendation to establish a Māori ward for the 2022 local body elections.
After public presentations - one for, two against - commissioners Bill Wasley, Stephen Selwood, Shadrach Rolleston and chairwoman Anne Tolley voted in favour.
The decision was not discussed among the four commissioners but was met with applause from the public gallery.
The move will go against the wishes of about 5000 people who signed a publicly initiated petition opposing the former council's decision for a Māori ward on August 25 last year.
The council voted 6-4 for the decision which was described at the time by supporters as "massive" and "historic".
However, a group that called itself Concerned Citizens spearheaded a campaign to gather enough signatures to veto the council decision. The group was able to do this through a legal loophole that allowed 5 per cent of the local population, collected through petition, to overturn a council's decision on Māori wards by forcing a binding referendum on the matter.
The legislation only affected decisions pertaining to Māori wards.
The success of the Tauranga poll was described by petitioners as a victory for democracy but in February, Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta pushed through the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill under urgency, preventing such petitions from affecting future council decisions on Māori wards.
The Bill passed its third reading on February 24 and came into force on March 2.
Mahuta said at the time the referendums, or polls, had proved to be an almost insurmountable barrier to improving Māori representation in local government and, in some cases, a deterrent to local authorities considering establishing Māori wards or Māori constituencies.
On March 29, the Tauranga Tangata Whenua Committee unanimously voted to recommend to the commissioners to retain the original decision.
Today, commissioners considered whether to vote to establish a Māori ward for the 2022 elections; revoke the council's earlier decision to establish the ward; or hold a non-binding referendum on the matter.
The cost of holding the referendum would be $220,000, an expense that has not been budgeted for.
In the public forum, Rob Paterson implored commissioners to consider going ahead with the referendum, saying it would be democratic.
"Council positions are a privilege, not a right, and therein lies the opportunity for anyone, Maori or non-Maori, to become a city councillor."
Richard Prince also spoke, telling commissioners that Māori did not need patronising or "undemocratic leg-ups" caused by "retrospective, draconian and race-based legislation".
Buddy Mikaere spoke next, telling the meeting he confidentially spoke for all tangata whenua on the subject, saying the claims the move would be undemocratic was "laughable". He reminded the meeting the entire process had got to this point through a democratic process with a democratically elected Government.
Mikaere said he, and tangata whenua, supported the establishment of a Māori ward and suggested the prospect of a second seat to be considered later.
Now, commissioners will considering the name for the Māori ward.
Tauranga is the third territorial authority to establish Māori wards since Mahuta's Bill was passed.
The city follows Taranaki Regional Council and Palmerston North City Council in voting to bring in Māori wards since the bill passed.