Criticised as racist, applauded for being outstanding value, it was a close vote that saw Rotorua Lakes Council enter into a new partnership with Te Arawa in 2015.

Three years on from the eight-to-five vote which saw the creation of Te Tatau o Te Arawa, councillors and the public remain divided on whether it has been successful.

Chairman Te Taru White was elected as the first leader of Te Tatau in 2015.

White had, in his role as director at Te Puni Kokiri, facilitated the Te Arawa Standing Committee in 1993.

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"History will show you, it didn't work," White said.

"It cost the council a lot of money and that was largely due to their failure to consult effectively with iwi."

Te Tatau is made of 14 elected members, who White described as "a significant cross-section of Māoridom".

"That is a massive potential contribution to society.

"We are vested in what happens, we see our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren in this space, so that's the responsibility we have.

"You can't get a better situation than that for people who are on your side."

White said Te Tatau had not spent the past three years as if it were an election term, "just working to get back to the table".

"The politics don't interest us, and that's an advantage.

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"What interests us is making a difference, being able to add value and see that value translated for the betterment of the people we represent, but also of the community as a whole."

Annually Rotorua Lakes Council supports Te Tatau with a maximum of $250,000, except for Te Arawa elections every three years when an additional $40,000 is given.

In the 2016 financial breakdown the majority of spending, $94,583, was spent on trustee fees, which sees each trustee earning about $6755 each year.

"That $250,000 is not even one person's salary at the senior executive levels of council," White said.

"We've got 14 people around the table with mixed levels of skills, from lawyers, to scientists, to translators, to experts in te reo and culture, mixing and matching and bringing it to a solution.

"We do a damn good job, we go to all the meetings of the council, we apply our trade, we deliver our views, have done our homework and I would argue we translate four times the value for the money we're paid."

In 2016 Rotorua Lakes Council and Te Tatau won an award for Outstanding Value and Service Delivery at the Local Government New Zealand Excellence Awards.

"We're a damn great investment," White said.

"It isn't about the money for us, it's about the difference we can make so our mokopuna can have a decent future."

Te Tatau isn't in the business of arguing over whether it's racist, but of doing the job it was mandated to do, White said.

"We're great believers in the culture and the value that our people bring to the strengthening of our region.

"People can label that racism. I don't - I label that progress."

White said over the past three years Te Tatau had brought a new culture to the council chambers.

"We've provided a cross-section of expertise and skills.

"I would ask any of those elected members around the table, have we not performed, have we not contributed, have we not influenced decisions in a positive way? I would argue we have."

White said Te Tatau had also brought valuable projects that stamped Rotorua as a unique place, for example ReoRua, making Rotorua a bilingual city.

The next election for Te Tatau will be in August next year with its future up for discussion after the October 2019 council election.

"It would be a sad day to see this partnership go," White said.

When Te Tatau was being voted on by the council, Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers secretary Reynold Macpherson was part of a campaign to convince Rotorua residents the partnership model was undemocratic and should not be adopted.

Three years on Macpherson said he hoped the partnership would continue.

He said since "Te Tatau's meetings are closed to the public that fund it, without agendas and minutes going into the public domain" only provisional judgments can be made based on the performance of four members.

"The contributions of the four Te Tatau members that sit on the Strategy Policy and Finance and Operations and Monitoring committees have been exemplary.

"They are all talented people, highly effective communicators and always well prepared.

"They compare most favourably with the performance of elected representatives. Given the value they have added, their contribution should continue."

Macpherson said Te Tatau had operated largely in the shadows since establishment

"The board's purposes, structures and operating systems must be due for review, perhaps best conducted after the next local authority elections.

"I imagine an even brighter, more valuable future for Te Tatau."

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said the partnership was about the value and contribution to the district of an effective partnership with tangata whenua, "who have a vested interest in the success of Rotorua and the wellbeing of all its residents".

"By working together on the basis of shared understanding we also share in the benefits of avoiding the likes of the Environment Court challenges we used to face before adopting the new partnership.

"These were costly both financially and in terms of our relationship with Te Arawa."

Chadwick said she hoped the partnership would continue.