Far North Mayor John Carter said Māori in his district won't be disadvantaged by his council's failure to go for Māori wards.
Māori wards for Far North District Council (FNDC) failed to get across the line at its October meeting in Kaikohe yesterday after a move by councillor Kelly Stratford failed.
The council instead decided by a 6:4 majority to ask its community if it wanted Māori wards, by holding a poll with the 2022 local government elections.
The poll's outcome would be binding.
Haami Piripi, a member of the heavyweight Northland Iwi Chairs Forum - Te Kahu o Taonui said the council's failure to vote for Māori wards was a "disappointment".
"I really thought we had a level of maturity in the Far North that transcended ethnicities," Piripi said.
"In my experience the relationship with Māori and European here has gone pretty well.
"But it's the institution of local bodies that has played a major part in disenfranchisement and disempowering our people.
"This decision represents an archaic view there's no room for today. It makes a mockery of the Treaty of Waitangi and the whole notion of equity."
The decision would affect council's working relationship with Te Kahu o Taonui, he said.
The Far North has one of New Zealand's highest Māori populations. Māori make up 51 per cent of its population.
Māori wards were the subject of a lengthy and often contentious livestreamed 1.5 hour debate in council chambers before a packed public gallery.
Stratford quickly moved the motion in support of Māori seats at the start of an agenda item on the topic. It was seconded by councillor Moko Tepania, who is also FNDC's Te Ao Māori portfolio lead and on the national executive of Local Government New Zealand Council subcommittee Te Maruata – a collective of Māori working in governance within local government and their communities.
Tepania said FNDC had to vote for Māori wards to "get s*** happening".
He said there had been little formal progress on council's relationship with Māori in recent years.
But Carter, a former National Party associate local government portfolio holder, overruled the duo on a point of order and recommended the 2022 council-initiated poll option.
Carter said he'd had advice it was a valid move and but was challenged by Shaun Clarke, FNDC chief executive. Carter attempted to override Clarke's challenge saying he was the meeting chairman.
But after Clarke clarified with the council lawyer, Carter and others, Carter's amendment was paused.
"Council are Treaty partners, tangata whenua being the other partner," Stratford said. "We need to have Māori at the decision making table. Having Māori at the table is not guaranteed. Having Māori wards ensures it is not left to chance."
This would bring diversity and be beneficial for decision-making across the Far North, she said.
Her move failed in a split 5:5 vote. Stratford, Tepania and councillors David Clendon, Rachel Smith and John Vujcich voted in favour of Māori wards. Carter, deputy mayor Ann Court, Dave Collard, Felicity Foy and Mate Radich voted against.
Carter's call for the 2022 poll then prevailed, seconded by Collard, supported by Court, Clendon, Foy and Vujcich. Tepania, Smith, Stratford and Radich voted against it.
Collard said he was against separate Māori wards.
"The Prime Minister says we are all a team of five million," Collard said.
"We are all New Zealanders."
FNDC councillors were bombarded with hundreds of emails from lobby group Hobson's Pledge in the three days leading up to yesterday's Māori wards vote. These were coming in from around New Zealand at a rate of up to one every four minutes.
Hobson's Pledge is a New Zealand lobby group in formed in September 2016 to oppose alleged "Māori favouritism". It is named after William Hobson, the first Governor-General of New Zealand and co-author of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Public gallery member Hone Mihaka said he was unhappy with FNDC's failure to vote for Māori wards.
It was the constitutional right of Māori to sit at the council table.
Whangārei District Council is the last of Northland's four councils to have its Māori wards vote, scheduled for an extraordinary council meeting on Tuesday.
Northland Regional Council voted 7:1 for Māori constituencies last week with longtime councillor John Bain resigning and walking out. Kaipara District Council on Wednesday voted seven in favour of the wards, with two abstentions.
That means more than two-thirds of Northland's 42 local government councillors have now cast their vote on Māori wards in the three councils' decisions.
Almost 45 per cent have voted in favour of Māori wards, along with six against, two abstentions and a councillor resigning in opposition before the vote was held.