Ward abolition a step closer

Palmerston North City Council has taken another step toward the abolition of wards in favour of city-wide voting at next year’s elections.

The council voted 10-6 in favour of a whole city approach to representation last night.

Ward supporters repeated arguments they put two weeks ago, but none of the councillors changed their minds in light of public comments since the planning and policy committee recommended dispensing with the geographical divisions.

Cr Tangi Utikere said people had told him dropping wards was ‘‘an assault on democracy’’.

The idea that councillors elected at large could be allocated to represent another neighbourhood would not work, ‘‘because their heart is not in it’’, he said.

Cr Duncan McCann said he was particularly concerned that there should be a dedicated rural ward to ensure a rural voice on the council.

He said the present council had strong advocates for rural communities.

‘‘But are they going to be represented in future? The mathematics says no.’’

Mayor Jono Naylor said supporting city-wide voting was the democratic thing to do, as that was the system a majority of Palmerston North voters favoured in a poll in 2010.

He said the current wards were ‘‘pseudo communities’’. The boundaries were arbitrary rather than reflecting a real sense of neighbourhood.

Mr Naylor said almost all of the councillors he had worked with grasped the concept of acting in the best interests of the city as a whole once they were elected.

‘‘The only basis for any favour I have seen has not been about geography, but around socio-economic status... or business interests, or arts interests.’’

Cr Teo-Sherrell said the council was moving entirely in the wrong direction, and should be creating more, wards.

With STV as the voting system at the next election, and the prospect of more than 30 candidates, the task of ranking their choices would be beyond most people.

The argument for voting for councillors at large was supported by Bruce Wilson, who said it would give ethnic and other minorities a better chance to marshall support from across the city.

A councillor who has changed his mind since three years ago is Pat Kelly. He said wards disenfranchised those people who wanted to be able to influence the makeup of the whole council.

The council’s proposal goes out for a round of formal consultation, with hearings at the end of October, and a final decision in November.

Manawatu Standard