Hamilton will have two Māori wards in place for the city in time for the 2022 elections if the community supports the move and the city council votes in favour of it on May 19.
The community has three weeks from today (April 16) to provide feedback to the city council on Māori wards as well as on other ways of achieving Māori representation on council.
"Over the next few weeks, we'll need to have some courageous conversations as a city," says Mayor Paula Southgate.
"We should not shy away from that. We are providing people with a way to respectfully share their views, and I hope all people do that with open hearts and open minds," she said.
The mayor was commenting after a special council meeting on Thursday afternoon revoked a council decision made on April 1 that agreed to consider Māori wards but would not have facilitated their introduction in time for the next local government election in 2022.
The April 1 decision was partly driven by the tight deadline of May 21 set by central government for the council to decide by May 21 if Māori wards should be in place for next year.
Southgate did not want to rush the process without consulting the community. She expressed concern that would divide the city rather than enrich it.
This week's decision overturns that of April 1 and instead will have the council begin a community engagement programme today, running until May 10. Community views will be provided to councillors before a final decision is made on May 19.
If Māori wards are confirmed, there are likely to be two Māori wards in place for the city in time for the 2022 elections. The number of wards is based on population, outlined in the Local Electoral Act 2001. Only voters enrolled on the Māori electoral roll could vote for Māori ward candidates.
Previously, if 5 per cent of a council's population challenged the introduction of Māori wards, a binding poll was required. That option has been removed by the government's upcoming introduction of the Local Electoral (Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill.
Southgate acknowledged the Māori wards issue had been "fraught" because people held deeply passionate views. But she believed the council had now landed on the right result.
"I am very pleased at the decision today and very grateful for the respectful way in which that position was reached. I want to thank everyone who came and presented to council.
The public gallery was packed for the meeting with the opening public forum section attracting a variety of speakers who mostly spoke strongly in favour of establishing Māori wards.
Southgate said: "I and some of my colleagues were deeply uncomfortable introducing Māori wards without wider discussion with our community. I've not changed my view on that.
"Today council has given more certainty in terms of when a final decision will be made, but we are still giving all people an opportunity to comment and that's important. It is now up to people who take that opportunity."
Community feedback on establishing Māori wards and other means of representing Māori on council is open until Monday, May 10. To share your voice, go to hamilton.govt.nz/haveyoursay or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hardcopy feedback forms will be available from the council building at 260 Anglesea St, or any Hamilton City Libraries branch, from Monday, April 18.