Whangarei's local government political landscape is set for its biggest change in more than 30 years.
Whangārei District Council (WDC) yesterday formally decided to wipe its localised six-ward voting system in favour of a district-wide approach next year.
68,000 electors will have to vote under the new system when they go to the local government polls in October 2022.
The change comes as WDC brings in a new district-wide Whangārei District Māori ward for the first time, forcing a representation review.
WDC will become one of only 11 councils out of 66 nationally using the district-wide voting system, if its proposal goes through.
Whangārei residents will have a month to appeal WDC's final proposal decision, from Friday.
Representation for the next elections has polarised the council.
At its most recent previous meeting on this last week deadlocked 7:7 voting on localised general wards versus district-wide voting emerged. Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai decided not to use her casting vote, thereby maintaining the localised general wards - in spite of not supporting them during debate.
However, the matter was revisited at yesterday's final proposal signoff meeting. Deadlocked 7:7 voting on the change surfaced yet again after Crs Nick Connop and Tricia Cutforth pushed for district-wide general voting. This was supported by Mai, Gavin Benney, Ken Couper, Anna Murphy and Carol Peters.
Deputy mayor Greg Innes and Crs Vince Cocurullo, Shelley Deeming, Jayne Golightly, Phil Halse, Greg Martin and Simon Reid instead wanted the localised wards-based system.
At 10am Mai adjourned the meeting for 10 minutes to decide what to do about her casting vote on the deja vu deadlock.
She returned and used it to break the deadlock, in favour of district-wide voting and thereby fundamentally changing how Whangārei voters will select councillors at the next elections in October 2022.
Councillors then had to vote again on this new approach. A 7:6 majority vote resulted with the same seven councillors voting for district-wide voting. But Innes stepped away from those voting against that by abstaining from voting. That meant there were only six people in the otherwise-the-same opponents' lineup.
Innes' said earlier he was keeping an open mind, in spite of also outlining the value of locally-based wards.
Yesterday's initial proposal agenda item was for Whangārei to still have six wards – but these would look slightly different from what is currently in place.
The district's current six wards (representative councillor numbers included) are Bream Bay (2), Hikurangi coastal (2), Mangakahia-Maungatapere (1), Whangārei Heads (1), Denby (3) and Okara (4).
These would become five general wards - (representative councillor numbers included) Bream Bay (2), Hikurangi coastal (2), Mangakahia-Maungatapere (1), Whangārei Heads (1) and Whangārei urban (combining Denby and Okara) (5).
The sixth ward would be one district-wide Whangarei District Māori ward with two councillors.
But the meeting moved away from that, settling instead on just two district-wide wards – with 12 elected councillors and a Mayor.
These two wards would be Whangārei District General Ward – with 10 councillors elected district-wide and Whangārei District Māori Ward – with two councillors also elected from across the district.
WDC currently has 14 politicians – the Mayor and 13 councillors. Its new final proposal sees that drop to 13 politicians - the Mayor and 12 councillors; 10 from the general ward and two from the Maori ward. There will be no community boards.
The Mayor is still elected from voters across the district under the final proposal. That person can be on either Whangārei's general or Māori electoral roll but is elected by all voters from across the district, regardless of which roll they are on. In contrast general ward councillors can only be elected by those on the general electoral roll. Māori ward councillors can only be voted for by those on the Māori electoral roll.
Yesterday's final proposal still needs to move through several steps before being formally implemented.
The proposal, which has significantly changed tack from what WDC earlier sought public feedback on, will be publicly notified on Friday (SUBS: September 10). That kicks off a month-long public appeal period which ends on October 11.
If an appeal is received, the decision on yesterday's final proposal becoming what happens for Whangārei's local political landscape will be made by the Wellington-based Local
The commission is required to make its decision on that by April 10 next year.
Today's WDC representation review final proposal meeting can be viewed at Council meeting - final proposal for the Representation Review - YouTube