ARotorua District councillor has labelled a proposed governance structure as "gerrymandering" — the practice of manipulating electoral boundaries to favour one group or individual.
The claim, from councillor Reynold Macpherson, was rejected by many fellow councillors, with mayor Steve Chadwick calling the accusation offensive and incorrect.
The comments came as Rotorua Lakes Council met via video conference on Tuesday to discuss and ultimately approve an initial proposal for the council's representation review.
A representation review is a six-yearly legislative requirement where a territorial authority must review its governance structure, including how many elected members it has, whether it has wards and if so how many seats they might contain, among other things.
The council's proposal, which will undergo public consultation from September 8 to October 8, would see one Māori ward with two seats, one general ward with four seats and four at-large seats.
At-large means a candidate whose voters are not confined within a boundary.
The general and Māori wards would cover the entire district but those on the general roll could only vote for candidates in the general ward and those on the Māori roll could only vote for candidates running in the Māori ward. Anyone could vote for at-large candidates, including the mayor, which was also an at-large role.
In the meeting, Macpherson said he preferred the model of one Māori ward with three seats and one general ward with seven seats, as he believed that was "the only democratic option available".
In his opinion other models, such as the council's proposal, were "not democratic because they violate the principle of equal suffrage".
That drew a point of order from councillor Tania Tapsell, who said that was "misinformation and not correct".
Macpherson said he did not believe he was providing misinformation and said the council's proposal relied on a "fake additional at-large [ward]".
That drew another point of order from councillor Mercia Yates, who objected to Macpherson's "use of fake information".
"Everything that we've been provided with is fact."
Chairing the meeting, Chadwick asked Macpherson to stop using words such as fake and "stick to the facts".
"They are all democratic models."
Macpherson said the council's proposal "increases the voting power of those on the general roll by 14 per cent while increasing the voting power of those on the Māori roll by 100 per cent."
He said the justification for the council's proposal included "the belief that some have, that I don't share… that the Treaty of Waitangi guarantees partnership with the Crown and 50/50 co-governance".
He said the "adjustments" were "in favour of mana whenua" and "like holding elections in reverse".
"Real voters normally get to pick their representatives but by adjusting wards using the structures being proposed, incumbent representatives will be picking voters."
That drew another point of order from Yates, citing misinformation again.
"Everyone has the right to vote… and for your information, Mr Councillor Macpherson, we have more Māori on the general roll than on the Māori roll."
Macpherson said he did not see the relevance of the point and said the approach was like adjusting districts to obtain "voting outcomes that are either prejudicial or advantageous to the position you'd like to achieve".
"This is defined in the literature as gerrymandering."
That drew an eruption of challenges from many other elected members.
Chadwick said she took offence to the accusation and asked Macpherson to withdraw it, which he refused.
She then advised him his five-minute speaking time was up.
Under the council's proposal, those on the Māori roll could vote for a total of seven candidates: who they want as mayor, two candidates in the Māori ward, and four candidates standing for at-large seats.
Those on the general roll could vote for a total of nine candidates: who they want as mayor, four candidates in the general ward and four candidates standing for at-large seats.
Māori or non-Māori can register on the general electoral roll but can only change roll during the Māori Electoral Option, which is usually held every five years. The next is in 2024.
Councillor Sandra Kai Fong said she "wasn't particularly happy" with the council's proposal – having previously expressed support for a Te Tatau o Te Arawa-backed model - but the public would have a chance to provide feedback on it, which she urged them to do.
She said it was "quite a complicated proposal to explain to the public" and wanted to ensure high voter turnout.
Councillor Raj Kumar said having one Māori ward with three seats was "easier to understand" and other options appeared "quite muddled up".
Councillor Trevor Maxwell said the council had "arrived at the fairest model over four workshops".
Tapsell said elected members should be considering what was best for the community, and the best way for elected members to know that would be if people told them through submissions on the representation review.
The proposal was approved for public consultation with seven in favour and four councillors - Peter Bentley, Kai Fong, Kumar and Macpherson - against.