IN WHAT some may call a sharp about-turn, members of the Rotorua Pro-Democracy Society have asked for a compromise over the controversial Te Arawa Partnership Proposal and are calling for the introduction of Maori wards.
But, any move towards Maori wards could take some time to complete due to the Rotorua Lakes Council voting unanimously late last year not to go ahead with them.
Society secretary Reynold Macpherson said he and the society would support Maori wards as they were "clearly democratic" and would go a long way to healing the community divide caused by the Te Arawa Partnership Proposal.
However, former Te Arawa Standing Committee members Arapeta Tahana and Kingi Biddle said to change tack now would cause more problems as the proposal put to the council by Te Arawa had already been agreed to by the iwi.
The society now has more than 350 members, four of whom are also members of the Rotorua Lakes Council, including society chairwoman Glenys Searancke and councillors Peter Bentley, Mike McVicker and Rob Kent.
Mrs Searancke, Mr Bentley and Mr McVicker said they supported a move to Maori wards, saying it was a practical way to fulfil the council's legal obligations to give Maori a more meaningful voice on council. "I think there is a will to revisit Maori wards on both sides. Anyone elected would be elected democratically, and rightfully so," Mrs Searancke said.
Mr Bentley said he had an open mind about Maori wards.
"Just because you belong to something like the Pro-Democracy Society people think you have a pre-conceived set of ideals. But I think wards would be a good way forward. We realise we need to be more proactive with Maori, but not just Te Arawa, it needs to be more inclusive."
Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick said she supported last year's decision not to go ahead with Maori wards.
"Under legislation, the status quo is now locked in until at least the 2019 elections.
"However, if this matter was revisited for 2019, the council would still need to develop a mechanism for the next five years in order to fulfil our commitment to a stronger new partnership with Te Arawa," she said.
While Mr Kingi and Mr Tahana said they were not personally against the idea of Maori wards it was not up to them to make that decision.
"The people are running with the partnership proposal at the moment, it's the model that Te Arawa wants. If wards were again discussed we would have to take it back to the people," Mr Biddle said.
Mr Tahana said he thought the society was playing games and wards were being used as a delaying tactic to put off any decision on the proposal.
"Wards would mean nothing would happen until 2019 and there's a lot of risk for us if we follow that line of thinking."
He said it was not up to former members of the standing committee and the society to make decisions for the whole of the Rotorua community.
Mr Macpherson said the society's stance was not a delaying tactic or a backdown by the society.
"We can all gain more by making compromises."
At the end of October last year, councillors voted unanimously against introducing Maori wards for the next local government elections in 2016.
The council can reconsider Maori wards at any time but, under the law, a decision on whether to establish Maori wards for the 2016 elections had to be made before November 23, 2014.
Any resolution regarding Maori wards made after that date would take effect at "the next but one triennial general election" - so 2019 at the earliest.