The face of democracy in the Western Bay of Plenty is changing, with one of the biggest local government shake-ups in the district's history. Four women have been elected into the council in this year's local body elections, increasing the female ratio by more than a third. And those formerly at the helm of community boards have been removed. Reporter Kiri Gillespie investigates why, what the Western Bay's newly elected women think of it, and what they have in store.
The representative make-up of Western Bay of Plenty District Council has dramatically changed with the election of four women into power.
Earlier this year, outgoing deputy mayor Mike Williams described the council as "pale, stale and male" , desperately in need of more diversity. Now, with 95 per cent of local body election votes counted successful candidates Anne Henry, Christina Humphreys and Monique Lints will join incumbent councillor Margaret Murray-Benge as elected members.
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Lints carried out a stunning win in the Te Puke-Maketū ward on Saturday, having received more progressive votes (2089) than anyone else standing for the four roles. Others voted in were seasoned councillors John Scrimgeour (2031), Kevin Marsh (1883) and Grant Dally (1767).
Lints told the Bay of Plenty Times she woke up Sunday morning half expecting her victory to have been a dream. She also referred to the entirely new, and much more diverse, Te Puke community board.
"There are big changes, but good changes. The community has spoken. It's really reassuring," Lints said.
Lints said she felt people voted for her because she represented change from a council many felt detached from.
READ MORE: Volunteering in the blood for Monique Lints
"A lot of the feedback we were getting was 'the council doesn't care about us'. We lost count of the number of people who said they were voting for the first time because there were more people to choose from this year.
"I suppose part of my advocating for the community is to have that voice heard, to have someone under the age of 50."
Lints, 37, said she was glad to have taken the leap of faith in that the Te Puke community would support her.
"I feel really empowered and really justified in the sacrifices we've made."
Lint's husband gave up work to support her and their young three children during the campaign. She will also delegate some of her volunteer and community work to take on the new role.
Helping form the new council with fellow newcomers Henry and Humphreys from Katikati and existing councillor Murray-Benge from the Kaimai ward was fantastic, Lints said.
"Now we have four females on Western Bay of Plenty District Council from last year when there was only one. That's absolutely incredible."
Humphreys (1432 votes) and Henry (1265) will join James Denyer (1918), also new to the role.
As former chairwoman of Katikati and Waihī Beach Ratepayers' Association, Humphreys said she wondered whether this was "the year for women".
She said the past three years had been "shocking" and she was keen to hold the previous council to account for high rates.
Henry thanked her supporters and said the results would be a "breath of fresh air" on the council "which will be great".
READ MORE: Western Bay rates second-highest in NZ
Murray-Benge failed in her bid to be mayor to incumbent Garry Webber but she was the most popular elected member for the Kaimai ward with 2411 votes. She was followed by existing fellow councillors Don Thwaites (2384) and Mark Dean (2099). Former community board member Murray Grainger (1904) will join them as a councillor.
Murray-Benge said it was great to have more women on board and she was keen to "get stuck into the issues".
Of New Zealand's 63 local councils, 25 per cent of the mayors are women — up from 19 per cent last time — and five of the 63 mayors are aged under 40
Political scientist Bryce Edwards said local councillors had traditionally been old, white and male but this year had seen "a diversity burst".
"The election has been a modernising one — throughout the country the results appear to have produced a rebalancing of the councils and the mayoralties, with voters choosing to elect more women and youth than ever before," he said.
"It does seem to be the zeitgeist — people are wanting to see greater change in our local representatives."
Special votes are still being counted, with the official result being declared from Thursday.