The question of whether Maori should be appointed to Whangarei District Council standing committees or elected by their own hapu spurred a debate that touched on tokenism and democracy.

A move to ensure decision-making was more inclusive of Maori also ironically rattled some councillors because they had not been "included in the process".

Some suggested the Strategic Alliance policy approved at yesterday's council meeting, which sees hapu representatives co-opted on to standing committees and invited on to other forums, was undemocratic.

Others said it had come "like a bolt out of the blue".

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But the policy merely ratified and builds on Te Karearea Strategic Partnership agreement signed between Whangarei hapu and the council last year, Phil Halse said.

Mr Halse, who led the development of a partnership strategy, said the council and Maori had spent years building relationships.

He also said all councillors could attend any committee meeting or read their agendas.

The council invited Maori along to bless and ritualise many functions and council meetings were started with a Maori prayer, he said.

"But when it comes to inviting true Maori representation in decision-making, half this council wants to hold up the process."

Mayor Sheryl Mai described the strategy as informal, practical and flexible - and part of the council's Treaty of Waitangi obligations.

"We do not currently have anyone in this chamber who can whakapapa back to our community partners, no one who can give us the Maori view. We need that, it is vital," Ms Mai said.

She used her casting vote to pass the policy rather than leave it on the table, as some councillors wanted.

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As a result, Maori representative Mike Kake has been co-opted on to the 20/20 inner city revitalisation committee and Taipari Munro on to the civic honours selection committee.

Longer term, the policy provided room for working "eye to eye" at hapu, district council and regional level, Mr Halse said. Greg Innes said the strategic alliance was "absolutely critical to the district's future".

Among objectors, Sue Glen and Greg Martin would prefer hapu representatives to be elected by their communities.

Susie Bretherton said ratepayers would see the current process as undemocratic.

Shelly Deeming said her concerns had nothing to do with the calibre of the people being co-opted on to council committees but the fact the policy had come "completely out of the blue". '