Naylor leads war on wards

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 14/08/2012

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Palmerston North is on the cusp of abolishing wards, forcing candidates for council to seek votes from throughout the city.

City councillors voted 11-4 to adopt city-wide voting at the planning and policy committee meeting yesterday.

The attack on wards was led by Mayor Jono Naylor, who said they were "a bit of a nonsense" in a city the size of Palmerston North.

"People want to be able to vote for people who will act in the best interests of the city, rather than someone who lives in some generalised vicinity."

Cr Bruce Wilson said wards were frustrating for people who wanted to have a say on the whole makeup of the council, and not be barred from voting for most of the candidates.

"And all of the ward boundaries are desperately arbitrary."

A mood swing against wards was voiced by Cr Lew Findlay, who believed he would never have been voted on to the council in the first place without the wards system.

But he thought it was unfair that people in one ward could be elected with only a fraction of the votes needed to make it to the council table in another.

He was also convinced that minority and ethnic groups had a better chance of attracting enough votes for election across the city, rather than in one quadrant of it.

Cr Chris Teo-Sherrell defended wards and said there should be more of them. "We should use this review as an opportunity to develop neighbourhoods.

"And we have heard, loud and clear, that the rural area wants its own ward."

Committee chairwoman Annette Nixon said more, smaller wards would strengthen neighbourhoods in ways envisaged by the council in its recently-adopted social strategy.

Ashhurst-Fitzherbert ward councillor Duncan McCann said city-wide voting ticked all the boxes for him except for the issue of rural representation.

Submitter Richard Mildon spoke at the start of the meeting about the need for "a strong, genuinely rural voice" that could only be achieved by having an amalgamated rural ward.

However, the notion did not gather support.

Neither did Cr Teo-Sherrell's suggestion of a mixed system, with half the councillors elected across the city and the other half by wards.

"City-wide voting definitely favours the incumbents, so maybe we all have a vested interest."

The committee also recommends the number of councillors remain at 15, that there should not be any community boards, and that the next council should devise a system of meetings to ensure communities of interest were well represented.

The full council has to adopt last night's recommendations before they go out for another round of formal consultation.

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The public would still have a right of appeal to the Local Government Commission to overturn the council's final decision.

HOW THEY VOTED

For wards: Jan Barnett, Chris Teo-Sherrell, Duncan McCann, Billy Meehan, Annette Nixon, Tangi Utikere. Against wards: Pat Kelly, Jim Jefferies, Bruce Wilson, Susan Baty, Adrian Broad, Vaughan Dennison, Lew Findlay, Ross Linklater, Mayor Jono Naylor.

Crs Nixon and Barnett eventually supported city-wide voting to head off the alternatives of an urban-rural divide, or a mixed system of wards and at-large voting.

- Manawatu Standard

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