South Taranaki district councillors have unanimously supported a move to introduce a Māori ward or wards for the 2022 and 2025 local body elections.
The council voted on the proposal at its meeting on Wednesday, November 11, with the finer details yet to be worked through.
South Taranaki mayor Phil Nixon said the decision was about demonstrating leadership "and simply doing the right thing".
"This decision is good for our community," Nixon said.
"As tangata whenua, residents and ratepayers, Māori (who make up almost 20 per cent of South Taranaki's population) have been underrepresented at the council table and disengaged from the electoral process for too long. This will encourage more Māori to participate in the governance of our district and will see council be more representative of our whole community.
"Research clearly shows that diverse boards operating with high levels of trust are far more successful and effective than those that don't. We will be stronger as we work together in partnership for the good of South Taranaki – which is ultimately what we are all here for."
The council's structure will change with the inclusion of a Māori ward or wards but that detail is yet to be confirmed.
Under the council's current structure of 12 councillors, the introduction of a Māori ward would mean that 10 councillors would be elected from the general electoral population and two from the Māori electoral population, with the mayor still being elected at large.
However, the council will do a representation review in 2021 which could change the total number of councillors and, consequently, the make-up of Māori representation.
"The South Taranaki District Council has always been a leader and innovator – not just in what we do, but in the way we do things," Nixon said.
"I was extremely pleased with the robust discussion and persuasive arguments put forward with dignity and respect by both members of the public and councillors. It demonstrated a maturity and self-confidence sadly lacking in many parts of society today and really made me very proud of the way our community works together."
In a report to the council, chief executive Waid Crockett said the council must now publish a public notice about the decision. It also allows the community to demand a poll by February 21, 2021 on whether Māori wards should be introduced.
If a poll is demanded, it must be held by May 21, 2021. The demand for a poll must be submitted by 5 per cent of the electors - that would be 887 electors for South Taranaki - and results are binding for two triennial elections.
If a demand for a poll is received, it is estimated to cost $45,000 to $50,000, Crockett said in his report.