Emotions ran high as Rotorua voted to adopt Māori wards in time for the next local election.
The decision was made by a full council meeting on Friday afternoon, right on the legislative deadline to introduce them.
The vote, which was not unanimous, was met with a waiata from about 80 gathered in the public gallery.
Councillor Tania Tapsell voted against the introduction of Māori wards.
She was not alone in her opposition, however, with councillor Reynold Macpherson expressing his opposition but leaving the council chamber before the vote after what he described as "interruptions" to his speech.
Tapsell said the district had a "long history of electing Māori" and Māori had often been among the highest-polling candidates in local elections.
"Being Māori is not a barrier to being elected."
She said while some councils required Māori wards to ensure fair representation, Rotorua did not, and noted that any councillor elected via a Māori ward still had to work for the betterment of all constituents, not just Māori.
One person in the public gallery vocally expressed their distaste for Tapsell's position, saying they didn't want to listen to "this rubbish", before walking out of the council chamber.
Councillor Reynold Macpherson also left the chamber in protest after his speech, which expressed his opposition to Māori wards, was interrupted multiple times by other councillors.
There was some applause from the public gallery when he left the room.
Macpherson left the council table before the vote, meaning his likely vote against was not recorded.
Council manahautū Māori, Gina Rangi, presented councillors with three options - to not adopt Māori wards, to adopt them, or adopt them and begin a broader review of governance arrangements.
Rangi advised the council voting against Māori wards would negatively impact the council's reputation and credibility with Te Arawa, as well as its relationship and partnership with the iwi.
Deputy mayor Dave Donaldson was audibly emotional as he spoke of his support for Māori wards.
He said there were three main reasons to support it: Treaty of Waitangi obligations, Local Government Act provisions and "simply it's good business to have effective partnerships".
He said the partnership with Te Tatau o Te Arawa would "grind to a halt" if the council did not support Māori wards.
"We need to be walking shoulder to shoulder with tangata whenua."
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said she had been delighted to see the "rolling support around the country for Māori wards".
"Its time has come."
She said the sky did not fall in as a result of the council's partnership with Te Tatau o Te Arawa in 2013, and it wouldn't fall due to the existence of Māori wards.
In an impassioned off-the-cuff speech, councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait said while Māori had been well represented on the council it was not guaranteed, and having Māori wards was a way to guarantee it.
She said in the past there had been "overt" racism on the council and it still existed from some councillors but was not "covert".
Councillor Sandra Kai Fong said it had been a difficult decision to make and there had been a lot of "misunderstandings and misinformation" in the community about Māori wards.
"Perhaps that comes about from the lack of understanding of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi."
She wanted to ensure the relationship with mana whenua was strengthened and had decided to vote in favour.
"So, for me, in my best te reo Māori: it's an āe."
Councillor Mercia Yates also became slightly emotional expressing her support and said there were still some concerns about how it would work, but she "wholeheartedly" supported greater representation, and supported Māori wards as an expression of tino rangatiratanga.
Councillor Fisher Wang said the council could guarantee fairer representation on the council and voted in favour, along with councillor Trevor Maxwell, who said he "reluctantly support[ed]" Māori wards.
Tapsell had also expressed some support for Macpherson after he left the chamber, saying councillors could have shown him "more respect".
"He won a seat at this table, he should have been listened to."
Ultimately the council voted in favour of the third option, although councillor Raj Kumar said he supported option two and so he voted against the motion, along with Tapsell.
A representation review, with full public engagement, would also be conducted to determine representation arrangements, as well as a wider review of the council's governance framework.
That review would explore the purpose, membership and powers of the council's committees and community boards and include a discussion with local iwi Te Arawa and the broader community about the possibilities of strengthening co-governance.
The council directed staff to prepare a proposal on the process and scope of the proposed review process.
It follows the passing of the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Act, which came into effect on March 2 this year.
Prior to that, the law stated that if a council moved to establish Māori wards, a local referendum on whether Māori wards should be established had to be held if at least 5 per cent of the electors demanded one.
The new law closed the door on that, and also established a transition period ending on May 21 this year in which a council could, regardless of any previous decisions or previous poll outcomes, resolve to establish Māori wards for the 2022 local elections.
After the vote, Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman Te Taru White said the decision "means everything".
"It means the word of our people has been heard.
"We're simply the mangai, the spokesperson, the doorway to our people. The partnership is actually with our people. When they said they wanted wards, that's what we have delivered to them, and I'm very proud of that."
He said he had no problem with some of the opposition to Māori wards expressed by some councillors and respected their opinions.
Speaking to Local Democracy Reporting after the meeting, Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said she would have liked the vote to be unanimous but she'd known it wouldn't be.
"For me it is about the next step, about what we take out to our wider community.
"We've still got a step ahead of us there."
She said she was not as concerned about community backlash against the decision as she was when the council introduced the Te Tatau o Te Arawa partnership in 2013.
She said there would be questions about how Māori wards would look, how many there would be and if it would limit those on the Māori roll regarding who they could vote for, but those questions would be explored and answered through community consultation.