Chairing the council meeting in Chambers last Thursday, participating and listening to the heartfelt debate on whether to rescind our 2020 decision on Māori wards, I felt immense pride in the people of our district.
The public gallery was packed to overflowing, our livestream was picking up more views every minute and I could feel the keen focus of those in the room and those tuning in online.
After the final decision to keep Māori wards, a spontaneous haka was performed by students from Te Kāpehu Whetū in the gallery and the atmosphere was electric.
This is exactly what our council hopes for – involvement, engagement and genuine investment in the decision-making process. I thank every one of you who tuned in on the day for your time and interest.
This is the level of engagement we hope to achieve across all council consultations. The 2021-2031 Long Term Plan (closing for submissions on Thursday, April 1) lays out our council's future direction for the next 10 years: how much money we spend, where we spend that money, and where that money should come from.
These are important questions that will impact our communities for many years to come. Council staff have worked hard to get the Long Term Plan messages out to our communities as much as possible, holding community meetings and organising events such as Saturday's Family Fun Day on Pohe Island. It was wonderful to see so many of you getting involved and giving us your feedback.
We're now asking you to turn your attention to our 2021 Representation Review.
Every three years, elections are held for local councils. To make sure the elections give people in our district fair and effective representation, local authorities are required by the Local Electoral Act 2001 to review their representation arrangements every six years.
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This includes reviewing how many councillors we should have, whether we have wards, the boundaries and names of those wards, and whether or not we should have community boards.
In April, Whangārei District Council will begin asking for your feedback on our own representation review.
The district council last held a representation review in 2018, resulting in some ward boundary adjustments. Our decision to establish Māori wards triggers the need for another review. The outcome of this review will be in effect for the 2022 and 2025 triennial local elections.
The first phase of the 2021 Representation Review will open on April 7 with an informal survey. Alongside this survey, the council will be running an education campaign to help everyone understand exactly what a representation review is, what the different options are and what the process entails.
Throughout April, staff will be holding drop-in sessions at the central library, with educational material available online, in our libraries and on our website.
I ask that those who tuned in so closely to the Māori wards debate and our Long Term Plan consultation, also tune in to the 2021 Representation Review process – it really is your council, your choice, and this is your chance to have your say.
• Sheryl Mai is mayor of Whangārei District.