The shape of Whangārei's political landscape is set to change dramatically after a clutch of district councillors failed in their bid to block the introduction of Māori wards.
At yesterday's livestreamed March council meeting, Whangārei District Council (WDC) councillors Vince Cocurullo, Shelley Deeming, Phil Halse, Greg Martin and Simon Reid failed to get their council's original November decision in favour of Māori wards dumped.
Mayor Sheryl Mai said the 8-5 vote against rescinding the original decision embedded new Māori wards representation.
The eight councillors who voted against overturning WDC's original decision were Mai, Deputy Mayor Greg Innes, Gavin Benney, Nick Connop, Ken Couper, Tricia Cutforth, Anna Murphy and Carol Peters – the same people who on November 3 voted for Māori wards.
Meanwhile, the five Cocurullo-led councillors who set out to overturn WDC's original Māori wards decision also voted against their introduction in November. This original 8-6 vote included Cr Jayne Golightly, who voted not to bring in Māori wards but did not attend yesterday's meeting.
Cocurullo said after the meeting he was disappointed his bid had failed.
"It's a disappointment for democracy," Cocurullo said.
Mai said the fact WDC's November decision for Māori wards had not been overturned reinforced the council's original decision.
An intense and sometimes emotional debate on Māori wards - which lasted more than two hours - included Mai having to ask the packed public gallery to respect council meeting protocol and not interject. Twenty-four hours later, the meeting has been watched more than 4500 times online.
A 5133-signature Democracy Northland petition demanding a poll on Māori wards which was delivered to the meeting by former WDC councillor Frank Newman came in support of the Cocurullo-led blocking efforts.
Newman said the petition's 5133 signatures represented 8.3 per cent of Whangārei's registered voters, the largest paper-based petition delivered to WDC.
"The public want to be involved in this decision and feel very strongly that they should [be]," Newman told the meeting.
Government changes to the Local Electoral Act this month mean the petition, with its signatures gathered prior to the change, is no longer valid.
Yesterday's decision was greeted with a spontaneous haka from Whangārei's Te Kāpehu Whetū, led by head girl Tikarohia Te Marama Henare.
Mai said she hoped debate around the decision brought community engagement in the representation review process.
"I'm hoping this has elevated the thinking and discussion and engagement of the people of Whangārei," Mai said.
"I am really looking forward to the representation review process."
Getting past yesterday's challenge means WDC now moves into a new-look council for the next local government elections in 2022. The Māori wards decision has triggered a full-scale, district-wide representation review, a requirement when these wards are brought in.
Mai earlier said this would be WDC's biggest-ever representation review discussion.
The number of Māori and general wards, the total number of councillors, how they are elected, ward boundaries and whether there should be community boards will be among representation features now under the spotlight.
The next step will be a council representation review briefing on April 1.
"I am happy about the council's decision for Māori wards, we need Māori representation in council," Te Kāpehu Whetū head boy and Year 13 student Zion Bryers said after attending the council meeting, his first.
Fellow Te Kāpehu Whetū Year 13 student Erina Paraha said listening to the council Māori wards debate had at times been highly discouraging.
"It was heartbreaking to think [that some people said] the council shouldn't have Māori wards," Paraha said.
Ngunguru's Aorangi Kawiti, a WDC Te Kārearea Strategic Partnership Forum Standing Committee member, praised yesterday's decision.
Whangārei Māori should now become involved.
"Prepare to represent, to stand, to vote in Māori wards," Kawiti said.
"Understand the processes involved so you can teach your children."