Northland Regional councillor John Bain resigned on the spot, and walked out of the chamber, before the council resolved on Tuesday to adopt Māori constituencies.
The former deputy chairman, a councillor for 14 years, said he could not support "broken democracy." He then walked out of the meeting, before councillors voted 7-1 in favour of the constituencies, a decision that was greeted with a spontaneous waiata from tangata whenua.
Council chair Penny Smart described the decision as a milestone for Northland and for local government in New Zealand, after more than an hour's heated debate ended with deputy chairman Justin Blaikie voting against Māori constituencies. Smart and councillors Jack Craw, Colin Kitchen, Amy Macdonald, Marty Robinson, Rick Stolwerk and Joce Yeoman voted in favour.
Northland electors will now have the opportunity to vote for or against the decision as part of the legal process, which requires the council to publicly notify its decision, and inform voters of their right to initiate a poll (which would cost $240,000), which would require five per cent of electors, 6027, to lodge a demand.
If a majority of voters oppose the decision it will be overturned.
Bain, who wanted the council to initiate a poll before making a decision, unsuccessfully tried to move an amendment to what became the final decision. Cr Blaikie seconded the amendment, voting in favour of it along with Crs Kitchen and Stolwerk, but Crs Smart, Craw, Macdonald, Robinson and Yeoman opposed it.
Bain announced his resignation at 11.25am, saying he did not want to be part of a "broken democracy."
"There's no point me sitting through the rest of the agenda, no point in staying. I take my departure," he said, handing a letter of resignation to Smart and leaving the room.
He had argued that it was for the community, not the council, to decide on the matter, and that he would accept whatever decision the community made.
Smart did not accept Bain's resignation, leaving it to lie on the table for two weeks, and declined to comment further after the meeting. Bain, however, said he was comfortable with his decision, made on a matter of principle about the democratic process and not singling out any particular race.
NRC's Tai Tokerau Māori and council working party (TTMAC) has asked the council to work with the Prime Minister and Local Government New Zealand to change the Local Electoral Act provision requiring polling.
TTMAC co-chairman Cr Robinson said Māori constituencies were an important part of doing the best for Northland as a whole, Smart saying the decision first and foremost honoured councils' requirement to honour the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi in its participation with Māori.
"No Pākehā can have a Māori world view," she said.
Māori had not changed their priorities around the treaty. It was up to Pākehā to change their view, and central government had given clear messages around its wishes for increased Māori participation in local government.
Cr Macdonald said the council had a clear mandate via local government legislation, and it was important to have the constituencies to boost economic, social, cultural and environmental wellbeing for Māori.
New Zealand had just been through a general election that resulted in landslide change, Cr Yeoman said, and Māori seats were "part and parcel" of that change. She had no idea why that wasn't being replicated in local government.
"There is nothing to fear with this decision. It's just the right bloody decision, so let's just do it. Māori are not a minority, they signed the Treaty of Waitangi, a founding document for our country," she said.