Push for city-wide voting reviled
Eight out of nine people condemned the Palmerston North City Council's plan to abolish the city's five wards when they spoke at a council meeting last night.
One submitter, former council candidate Maryanne Mechen, said she felt "insulted" that councillors were determined to push for city-wide voting despite quality arguments for strengthening communities. She said the city should have more wards, not less.
Frequent submitter John Bent put his case for 11 wards, each represented by one councillor.
He warned the council would not be making the final decision if it persevered with a proposal for city-wide voting, because it would be appealed to the Local Government Commission.
Another regular wards advocate, Dion Martin, reminded councillors that a move to abolish wards in 2007 was overturned by the Local Government Commission. City-wide voting was a failed system, he said, that opened the door to party politics in local government.
He and submitter Trevor Kirk both believed the change to a single transferable vote (STV) next election would make the task of voting too complicated for many people, having to rank their preference for what could be dozens of candidates, most of whom they did not know.
Several submitters challenged the council's dependence on a poll taken in 2010 which showed a slim majority of voters preferred the abolition of wards.
While city-wide voting won a 1500-vote majority, there were 900 informal votes, and people in Awapuni and Takaro came out in favour of retaining wards.
And since that poll, an area of Manawatu District had been absorbed into the city, and the decision to switch to STV had been made. "If you held that poll now, can you guarantee you would get the same result?" asked Mr Kirk.
"I don't think so."
Another wards defender and former councillor, Peter Wheeler, said city-wide voting favoured those who had a high profile, such as sitting councillors elected under the wards system, at the expense of people working in their neighbourhoods.
"You have forgotten how you were elected and got your chance to become known.
"If wards go, then democracy of a meaningful nature departs the scene . . . and the city reverts to top-down charity."
The one supporter of the council's stand was former councillor Vern Chettleburgh.
He supported the vision of Palmerston North as one united city, rather than a collection of competing interests, and rejected arguments that it mattered where councillors lived or that a city-wide campaign was too expensive for many.
The council continues hearing submissions today and will then debate and vote on a proposal that will need to be confirmed on November 12.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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