Six months ago the Far North District Council voted not to adopt Māori wards. On Tuesday a special meeting, called by Cr Moko Tepania, which attracted so many members of the public that they spilled out of the council building and into the nearby War Memorial Hall, reversed that decision.
The council voted 7-3 in favour of Māori wards, despite the fact that days earlier it had appeared that the split would be 5-4 against them.
The vote was taken after an intense, emotion-filled debate.
In October the council was locked at 5-5 over the issue, Mayor John Carter using his casting vote to retain the status quo. He said at he time that he did not oppose Māori wards, but believed that the proposal deserved an informed discussion within the council and the community, and that a decision in favour at that stage would likely be overturned by a binding poll, in the probable event that five per cent of ratepayers would demand a referendum.
He believed that delaying a decision until prior to the 2025 local government elections would give the proposal a much greater chance of success.
On Tuesday he changed his stance, and voted in favour.
"I have not been against Māori wards. What worried me was the timing," he said after Tuesday's meeting. (Since the October decision the government has amended local government legislation, removing the right of ratepayers to demand a binding poll).
Cr Mate Radich also shifted his stance after voting against the proposal in October.
Crs David Clendon, Rachel Smith, Kelly Stratford, Tepania and John Vujcich voted for Māori wards, as they had done in October, with deputy Mayor Ann Court and Crs Dave Collard and Felicity Foy maintaining their votes against.
The council went a step further on Tuesday, also resolving to consider its current committee structure, membership and delegations to "ensure iwi/hapū membership to council committees, delegations and board committees."
Iwi and hapū from around Northland attended the meeting, some watching it on screens outside the chambers.
Tepania said the outcome was more than he had expected, with iwi/hapū to be more involved in council representation, although it had initially looked as though it might not happen after Carter moved an amendment to Tepania's motion, calling for a poll of Far North residents at the next local government elections in 2022. The amendment was lost.