A bid to fill council vacancies by appointment rather than a costly by-election has gained traction with the Wanganui District Council.

Councillors had debated the issue in October last year when councillor Philippa Baker-Hogan promoted a resolution seeking changes to the Local Electoral Act.

Her suggestion was to give councils the right to fill a vacancy if one occurred within 12 months of the triennial local body elections by appointing the highest polling losing candidate. Council would also retain the right to hold a by-election.

Her resolution was lost then, but armed with a legal opinion, she brought it back to the council this week and got the support she needed.


Currently the Local Electoral Act 2003 stipulates that if a vacancy on council happens more than 12 months before the next local body elections, then a by-election must be held to fill the seat. Closer than 12 months out from an election councils can either leave the seat empty or appoint a replacement.

This time Mrs Baker-Hogan amended her resolution to cover a period within six months after the local body elections.

She said by-elections held soon after triennial event were a regular occurrence and as such "affected a lot of local authorities".

"We've had three or four in Wanganui over the last 10 years and it's cost our ratepayers about $200,000," she said.

Councillor Hamish McDouall said the motion was sensible because it was "illogical" to have to hold a by-election so soon after the triennial election.

But he said costs should not be a consideration "when upholding the principles of democracy".

Councillor Rob Vinsen said it was a positive stance that would be supported by most of the country's local authorities. He said he believed most people assumed the highest polling losing candidate (in the 2013 elections) would have been appointed to fill the vacancy when Michael Laws resigned and moved from the city.

The next step is for the resolution to go forward as a remit to next week's Zone 3 local authorities meeting, which Wanganui council is hosting. Zone 3 involves councils across the central North Island from Taranaki, across to Hawke's Bay and through the Manawatu.


If supported there, the resolution will go to Local Government NZ's annual conference and success there would mean going to the Government for consideration.

Mrs Baker-Hogan will promote the remit at next week's meeting.