Views on wards get an airing

Both wards and city-wide voting were denounced as undemocratic when the Local Government Commission came to Palmerston North to hear final evidence on how October's city council elections should be run.

At the end of a process that started 2 years ago, the council and submitters have put the final decision on whether to retain wards in the commission's hands.

In keeping with the division of community views so far, and the council's own changed stance from city-wide voting and back to the status quo, there were two speakers each way at the commission's hearing of appeals yesterday.

Former mayor Jill White said city-wide voting was practical, manageable and desirable for Palmerston North.

The present system was, "inequitable and undemocratic", she said, as voters in one ward could vote for four councillors, while others could influence the election of only two.

The city was made up of various communities of interest, but they did not necessarily depend on where people lived.

Minorities, such as Maori or ethnic groups, would find it easier to secure representation if they could call on their supporters throughout the whole city, she said.

City councillor Chris Teo-Sherrell, who abstained from the council's final vote in favour of wards because he had made a submission, advocated for single-councillor wards as the best way to build communities and engage electors.

The non-binding poll held at the 2010 elections, which showed a majority in favour of city-wide voting, held little validity since the council had decided to move to STV voting, he said.

It would be almost, "a human impossibility" for any voter to try to rank a list of 40 or 50 candidates from across the city.

City-wide voting gave an unfair advantage to candidates with a city-wide profile and name recognition over those who played an important role in their neighbourhoods, he said.

Appellant John Bent said he favoured wards, but not as the boundaries were drawn at present.

Submitter John Whitelock said the city should stick with the outcome of the 2010 poll, and the city council's pre-consultation stance supporting that poll.

He was concerned the council had given in to "pressure groups" in reversing its stand and voting to keep wards.

It was "outdated and archaic" to deprive citizens of the right to vote for the whole council, he said.

Ward representation had, at times, been "a dismal failure".

The number of councillors should be cut to 10 to provide an effective forum to carry out city business.

With 15 councillors, the prolonged discussions on simple matters were, "almost beyond acceptance", Mr Whitelock said.

Commission chairman Basil Morrison said he found it difficult to understand why the council had changed its preference from city-wide voting in light of just 28 submissions favouring wards.

Mayor Jono Naylor, who voted against wards, said the majority of councillors were convinced by the quality of the submissions they heard.

The commission will release its decision by April 10.

Manawatu Standard