Horizons Regional Council has put out the call for public submissions on establishing designated Māori representation around the council table.
The council has until May 21 to decide whether or not to establish a Māori constituency in time for the 2022 local body elections, after a recent law change gave local authorities the sole right to decide on Māori wards without the risk of citizens-initiated referenda.
The council hasn't yet formed a position on whether to establish a ward, but has agreed to consult the public on the move.
A survey has been sent to people on the Māori electoral roll, and is also available online for anyone to complete before 8am on May 10.
Horizons Regional Council is currently made up of 12 councillors covering six constituencies - four for Palmerston North; two each for Horowhenua, Manawatū-Rangitīkei, and Whanganui; and one each for Ruapehu and Tararua.
The council said it was likely there would be two Māori ward councillors. They could represent one Māori constituency each or both could represent a single Māori constituency that covered the whole region.
The move to consult on wider representation follows the council formally adopting iwi voting rights for the first time on one of its committees.
The council's Climate Action Joint Committee was formed earlier this month, and focuses on mitigation and adaptation to climate change. It's the first time iwi representatives have been invited on to a committee and granted full voting rights.
Other local authorities have already made the move towards full Māori representation, with Taranaki Regional Council voting earlier this month in favour of establishing a ward after a series of public submissions.
In November, South Taranaki District Council also voted to establish a dedicated constituency, while in October Ruapehu District Council supported the creation of a ward.
Whanganui and Rangitīkei District councils have not resolved to establish dedicated representation for next year's local body elections, and it's not believed there are any plans to vote on the issue before the May 21 cut-off.
Mixed views on consultation
Whanganui-based Horizons councillor David Cotton said he supported the idea of consulting iwi about whether they want a Māori ward, but said the six-week timeframe was too short.
He doubted whether the council could get "a good steer" in that time.
The consultation was also happening at a time when Horizons was pushed for financial resources and its staff were pushed for time, due to the long term plan and the shovel-ready projects.
Cotton said he was also concerned about the cost of the consultation, which he believed would be between $150,000 and $180,000.
He said he was open to the idea of a Māori ward, but there were other ways of getting input from iwi.
"Would they prefer to have management agreements with Horizons, in the areas that they operate?"
Horizons' other Whanganui-based councillor Nicola Patrick said she originally put a motion to explore the issue of Māori representation in time for the 2025 local elections, but was supportive of exploring it now instead.
"I was really pleased with where we've ended up, which is to give it a crack for 2022."
Patrick said she understood there were mixed views among the Māori community, as seen in the Whanganui District, where some Māori leaders were apprehensive of designated wards, cited by Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall as the reason the idea hadn't been progressed by his council.
The key was to ask the question and listen to the views of the community, Patrick said.
"By asking the question, if we get a really clear message, then that will strongly influence us in favour of going ahead."
Horizons chairwoman Rachel Keedwell said the council was trying to work with iwi "in a whole range of spaces". She supported doing the consultation to find out whether Māori voters wanted a dedicated Māori ward.
"Working with them doesn't mean imposing what we think is best on them. That's not a good partnership model," Keedwell said.
She thought the cost of the consultation was more like $80,000. It was an amount increased by the tight timeframe, but she said money would have to be spent on the consultation at some stage.
Horizons Regional Council subsequently confirmed that while the consultation process is currently underway, costs so far have totalled $44,500.