Is a mayor and 12 councillors a bit much for a town like Whanganui?

Well, one of those 12 elected members thinks maybe it is ...

When the recent representation review was considered by the district council, councillor Philippa Baker-Hogan was the lone voice against the status quo.

Baker-Hogan said there was a strong argument for having fewer councillors, adding that the council review did not show a thorough analysis of the pros and cons.


The council has to undertake a review of its representation makeup every six years, and this year a working party was charged with the task.

The working party recommended largely retaining the current set-up - and last month council voted to stick with 12 seats at the table.

However, Baker-Hogan said: "What people need to understand is the remuneration pool stays unchanged.

"That means if we have fewer councillors, they will get paid more, and that may be the attraction that brings new faces to the table."

She said council had had six years to consider any changes and should have been getting information together much earlier than 16 months out from an election.

And she was unhappy there was no comment in the recommendations as to why the working party was favouring retaining the status quo.

The working party review is now open for public submissions, but Baker-Hogan said the community had been let down because not enough information was being put in front of them.

"We've had close to six years to prepare for this review but have failed to undertake the pre-consultation to give the community information on the issues and get feedback. There's no excuse for that."

Public submissions close on August 3, and a final proposal will be decided by council at its September 11 meeting, though there will be opportunity for objection or appeal.

Whatever the submissions indicate, at next year's local body elections there will be a poll on the number of councillors, the basis of election (whether using wards or "at large") and the electoral system to be used.

Mayor Hamish McDouall said it was important to remember public submissions could change what the final council draft - and the poll questions - would look like.

"Changes could be made after those submissions are heard. So if the submissions point to reducing the number or councillors, then the final proposal in the poll would have to reflect that."

He said the poll questions would be "strong and fair" to ensure there was no skew.

Councillor Rob Vinsen said representation was always a controversial issue but he supported retaining the status quo because it gave for a fairer democratic process.

"Dropping the numbers of councillors is always based on arguments about money but whether it's good for democracy is another question altogether," Vinsen said.

"Attempts have been made to lower the numbers before but, in my view, all that does is allow a dictatorial council to be in place. The number we have now better reflects the community opinion."

Under local body legislation, Whanganui can have anywhere between five and 29 councillors. Based on the district's population, there is one councillor for every 3708 people.

Other councils, with a similar population, have more or fewer councillors.

Marlborough (population 46,000) has 13 councillors elected on a ward system. Timaru (47,000) has nine councillors, again elected on a ward system.

That means the ratio of councillors to population is 1 to 3560 in Marlborough and 1 to 5232 in Timaru.