The unelected Maori Statutory Board went boo, and Mayor Len Brown and a majority of his councillors buckled.

In February, councillors agreed to a board request for $2,066,000 funding to cover the first eight months of its existence up to mid-2011.

After a public uproar, the councillors met again and chopped the figure back to $950,000 in cash (which was widely publicised) and an additional $514,000 in kind (IT support services and one-off accommodation) which slipped by unnoticed.

The board threatened court action - at ratepayers' expense - to get the full $2.06 million.

Last week, councillors met in secret to reconsider their position and agreed, in effect, to split the difference and fund a package totalling $1.76 million, which was quickly accepted.

Hanging over the councillors' heads was a potential legal bill which council sources indicate could have been around $300,000 apiece, which ratepayers would have had to fund.

The council's PR machine tried to play down the size of the backdown by, as before, massaging the figures and declaring that "under the agreement, the direct cost to ratepayers of the board's activities in 2010/11 will be $984,200".

It then went on to list additional support services of $264,000, one-off accommodation costs of $250,000, and audit and policy support worth $265,000. All of which adds up to just $300,000 short of the original demand.

We're assured there's also an agreement on "a process to avoid misunderstandings and conflict in the future" and "a process to reach a funding agreement ... for 2011/12 and future years". Both of which are statements of faith rather than fact.

What hasn't been resolved, of course, is the alien presence of two unelected board "representatives" as full voting members of 11 Auckland Council committees.

It's a situation imposed on Auckland by legislation backed by Prime Minister John Key and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide.

Both now say the new law was not supposed to work like this, but are refusing to amend the legislation and correct their errors.

Two months ago, when councillors pruned back the board's original funding request, Maori broadcaster Willie Jackson was on his hind-legs saying the criticism was "a reminder to Maori that Pakeha politicians, irrespective of their left or right leanings, will always vote against Maori aspirations, especially when those aspirations don't fit their ideals of what a democracy is".

At the time I tried to think of any model of democracy that involved members of a committee of government appointees, not elected by the people they purport to represent, sharing voting rights on a city council with elected councillors. This system of Maori representation doesn't fit the ideal of any form of democracy that I know of this side of the old communist world.

The political aspirations of Chinese Aucklanders outlined in the Herald's recent "China and Us" series highlights the possible unexpected consequences of apportioning seats on an ethnic basis. Chinese businessman Paul Young, who stood in the recent Botany byelection on the New Citizen ticket, said: "Soon there will be more Asians than Maori in New Zealand, but in politics our voice is still very tiny." He said he wanted to be the "Chinese voice" representing Asian interests in Parliament.

What will Mayor Brown and the Prime Minister say if Mr Young knocks on their doors and says, "Maori have appointed seats on Auckland Council as of right, why not Chinese?" Or Samoans, or Australians for that matter.

Those of us nurtured on the mysteries of the Treaty of Waitangi at least understand the historical twists and turns that have got us to where we are. But how do you argue the superiorities of the democratic system to immigrants from totalitarian China, when another group gets free entry into the committees of power, with no ballot box in sight.

If Mayor Brown and his majority think everything is now going to be sweetness and light, they're mistaken. Oil and water don't mix, and I'm not talking ethnicity here, I'm talking elected and unelected. There are already tensions, as elected councillors calculate the backlash from ratepayers faced with funding the $53,000 salaries each board member now enjoys - and double that for the chairman.

What is going to happen when the unelected enjoy the casting vote in a closely contested discussion?

Instead of buckling, councillors should have sent this mess back to Parliament. John Key's government made it. Only they can clean it up.