Some councils planning Māori wards at the next local elections could have to wait till at least mid-2022 before knowing for certain what structure will be in place when the vote is decided six months later.
According to the Local Government Commission, the process allows for judicial review in the High Court, for which a deadline for the lodging of the applications could be as late as the second week of April.
But the possibility is considered unlikely, with the grounds being limited to the representation review process used by a council (not the actual decision), the apparent meticulous way in which councils are following guidelines, and that there have not been any judicial reviews of council representation processes since a 2004 opposition relating to the Christchurch City Council.
Voters will not be able to vote in more than one ward – if they are on the Māori roll they vote in the Māori ward, if they are on the general roll they vote in their locality ward, although all would be able to vote in "at-large" segments and Mayoral races.
The key issues facing the councils, having decided that they will have Māori wards, are about how many wards, how many councillors, and the impact on existing structures, guided by populations.
Three councils in the Hawke's Bay Today circulation, along with almost 30 others throughout New Zealand, are now working through processes of public feedback and consultation before coming up with a preferred-option proposal to put before the public by September 8, intent on implementing Māori wards for the elections decided on October 8 next year.
Councils have until August 31 to decide on a proposal (preferred option) and September 8 to make public notification for consultation.
Most are moving ahead of the deadlines to enable the consultation and programming of submission hearings as soon as possible afterwards.
In Hawke's Bay they're headed by Tararua District Council (strictly speaking a part of the Horizons (Manawatu-Whanganui) regional council area), which already has its proposal out to the public.
The Tararua council is offering to add a single-councillor district-wide Māori ward to the existing structure of general-roll North and South wards, which each have 4 councillors. The proposed name of the new ward is Tamaki nui a Rua.
The Hawke's Bay Regional Council and Hastings District Council, have been seeking feedback on how they think it should look in their areas, the Hastings council holding a public meeting in its council chambers on Monday evening, and both will hold meetings during August to firm-up their proposals.
The Napier City Council and Central Hawke's Bay District council opted out of making changes for the 2022 election.
Having had significant changes after its 2018 review, the Napier council unsuccessfully sought an extension of time for consultation on whether it would have direct Māori representation next year, but has been staging community meetings on that issue, although its decisions on the number of wards and councillors now don't have to be made till what had been the next scheduled review in 2024.
The Wairoa District Council established a district-wide ward at its last review, with three councillors elected in the ward at the 2019 local elections.
A local government says that if any applications for judicial review were made it's expected the High Court would react quickly, but councils could proceed on a "presumption of innocence" basis, and continue the planning process but be prepared to make changes if needed.
Regional council marketing communications manager Drew Broadley said: "Whatever feedback we receive through the representation review process, the Electoral Commission will ultimately make a final call on the representation structure of each council ahead of the local government elections next year."
"We will definitely have Māori representation for the regional council sorted out in time for the 2022 elections."
The regional council discussion includes whether there might be more than one Māori ward councillor, and if so would there then be separate wards on, such as a North-South split.
The regional council currently has 9 at the table, from 5 wards (Wairoa 1, Ngaruroro constituency 1, Napier 3, Hastings 3, Central Hawke's Bay 1).
The Hastings council, which had battles over the urban and rural split when it was established after widespread local government, currently has 14 councillors, comprising 10 from the urban wards (Hastings-Havelock North 8, Flaxmere 2) and 4 from rural wards (Heretaunga 2, Kahuranaki 1, Mohaka 1).
Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said that before her council made its decision in May to establish Māori wards a survey showed 76 per cent of the community were in favour.
"I was very proud that our council took the opportunity to demonstrate true partnership," she said. "As a result we are now required by legislation to look more widely at how our community is represented within Hastings District Council."
How many councillors there should be, whether they should be elected by ward, or a combination of by ward and across the whole district (at large), and the names of the wards, and whether or not to have any community boards are parts of the decision to be made.
"Hastings district currently has a mayor and 14 councillors and one of the things we need to determine is if that is still the right number," she says. "With Hastings district's growing population, reviewing our arrangements for electing councillors is important, and we need to ensure our representation model is still efficient and effective for everyone."
Monday's meeting, starting at 6pm, is to invite views and inform people more about what's involved in the representation review.
Meanwhile, there is some legal action around the process with the Waitangi Tribunal having last month (July) received a claim made on behalf Napier area representative authority Taiwhenua o Te Whanganui a Orotu, concerning the design and implementation of the Crown's legislative and policy framework on local Government representation, specifically the Local Government Act 2002, the Local Electoral Act 2001, and the Local Electoral (Maori Wards and Maori Constituencies) Act, which was enacted this year.
The claimants say the nature of the current system has undermined the importance of shared governance arrangements and the number of Māori elected remains disproportionately small.
It challenges in particular the Napier City Council consultation, and the claimants' unrequited encouragement to the council to have Māori ward representation at next year's election.
It says the Crown breached the principle of active protection by failing to guide and monitor local authority elections, leaving Māori exposed to inconsistent interpretations of Treaty obligations.
Among other recommendations, it seeks that the Crown takes immediate steps to remedy inequitable representation of Māori in local government, and take steps to monitor performance of local government in keeping with principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.