Apartheid, corruption and tyranny were three words repeated by Rotorua residents opposed to the Rotorua Lakes Council's controversial Te Arawa Partnership Proposal.
Yesterday was day one of five days of hearings. They continue from 9.30am to 5pm today and on Tuesday, May 5, Wednesday, May 6 and Monday, May 11, in the council chamber.
Most of yesterday's submitters were opposed to the proposal, which could see the establishment of an iwi board outside the council structure to replace the former Te Arawa Standing Committee.
Te Arawa would appoint or elect a board of up to 14 people with two representatives - with voting rights - to sit on the council's operations and monitoring committee and on its strategy, policy and finance committee, with one on the chief executive performance committee and another representative on Resource Management Act hearings panels.
Submitters had 10 minutes each to speak about their submissions, which included questions from councillors.
Rotorua Pro Democracy Society spokesman Reynold Macpherson made two submissions, one as a member of the society and one as a private individual.
Among those councillors hearing his submission were four members of the same society - Rob Kent, Mike McVicker, Peter Bentley and society chairwoman Glenys Searancke.
Mr Macpherson spoke for his full 20 minutes about his interpretation of how democracy should work - councillors not getting time to question him about his submissions.
"When unelected people get power, it leads to corruption and tyranny," he said.
"The people are deeply divided about the council partnering just with Te Arawa."
He said the proposal was unsound and divisive and risked an expensive judicial review if passed.
Mr Macpherson was followed by Allan MacKenzie, who said the proposal could be compared to apartheid: "Is the aim of Maoridom to eventually reduce us to the level of modern-day serfs?
"There is no evidence that Te Arawa have any special knowledge or skills that is not available in the wider community.
"Giving special preference to a small group is indefensible and should not be allowed in a democratic society ... and in time could lead to corruption," Mr MacKenzie said.
Rotorua dentist Stewart Edward was one of the few submitters yesterday who argued for the proposal.
Mr Edward said Rotorua had "nothing to fear and everything to gain".
"The Maori economy is set to expand, both nationally and locally. In my observation, iwi have a vested interest in the long-term future of our city.
"The council has a unique opportunity to be visionary, innovative and grasp the chance to improve race relations and together forge a productive future that will be the envy of the country," he said.
Earlier in the day councillors also heard from Pounamunui Marae and Te Waiariki Purea Trust manager John Merito, who also supported it.
Mr Merito said Te Arawa did not want power, but to share the responsibility of governance with the council.
"It's about getting around the table in a sharing capacity, I do not see this as a threat, not at all."
The council is expected to make its final decision at a public meeting scheduled for May 26.