Māori wards: councillors muzzled

Waipā’s Mayor Jim Mylchreest says his councillors cannot indicate their opinions on the Māori ward issue before they vote on it next week.

He says if a councillor expresses an opinion on the issue, he or she could be banned from taking part in the debate because it would suggest “predetermination”.

Councillors fear that if that happened, any decision they make could be compromised.

The view is backed by Local Government New Zealand.

The News asked all councillors for their views on submissions received on the issue, which way they planned to vote and whether they believed there should be a change in the number of council seats for the 2022 elections.

The News believes that despite the lack of answers, there is an appetite within council to introduce a Māori ward.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced a law change in February which gave councils sole authority to add Māori seats – where previously the electorate could force a referendum.

But since that change Waipā councillors have been reluctant to advance their opinions on the issue. Some have ignored repeated emailed questions, others have declined to answer because they wanted more information, and now all are remaining silent ahead of next week’s vote on the issue.

While it may be argued the councillors are successfully avoiding the possibility of being accused of predetermining an issue, the process has also excluded any meaningful debate involving the councillors at a time when the public is being encouraged to take part in consultation processes.

Submissions in Waipā closed on April 19, but beyond confirming there had been a lot, the council has yet to give an indication of what the submissions contained. It is expected councillors will have a handle on the submissions – categorised as community feedback and iwi engagement – by tomorrow at the latest.

Aside from council calls for public submissions and an excellent video featuring council iwi liaison advisor Shane Te Ruki – who calls it the “number one discussion at the moment” almost all the tangible public discussion in Waipā on the issue since February has been in generated by the News via stories and opinion columns.

Southern neighbours Ōtorohanga District Council elected to introduce Māori wards two weeks ago and Matamata-Piako followed suit last week.

Hamilton City Council reversed an early April decision against Māori wards and is going through a consultation process, and, like Waipā it will vote on the issue next week – as will Waikato District Council.

Waikato has also considered changing its views – it voted against introducing a Māori ward just last November.

Any council that resolves to establish a Māori ward by May 21 must then complete a representation review by early September.

The News understands there is a level of support for reducing the present numbers down from a mayor and 13 councillors.

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