Editorial: City ward system makes no sense

MATHEW GROCOTT DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF
Last updated 12:00 13/11/2012

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OPINION: With any luck, next year will be the last time the Palmerston North City Council is elected under a ward system that does not make sense.

At a special meeting yesterday councillors voted to retain five wards across the city, with minor changes to take into account the Manawatu boundary change.

They also confirmed a plan to review the number and boundaries of wards, as well as how many councillors come from each, in time for the elections in 2016.

Legislatively the council was unable to make changes to the wards in time for next year's election, as the public debate had instead been about whether to scrap wards for city-wide voting. Most councillors had been in favour of city-wide voting but after public submissions were overwhelmingly in favour of wards, most voted for the status quo.

This has left the city with five wards that are really just a way to divvy up the city rather than being reflective of shared communities of interest.

The best example is the Ashhurst-Fitzherbert ward, which combines the rural village of Ashhurst and the pricey lifestyle blocks south-east of the city with dairy farmers, soldiers at Linton and students in Massey University's hostels.

What interests and concerns do these groups have in common other than the ward they live in?

But then in this city it is tough to define any shared community of interests along geographic lines. Yes the city has its suburbs and people feel ties to them but they still work, play, socialise and use community facilities throughout the city.

Submitters raised concerns about the need to have councillors that came from their part of the city. In that case would it not be better to have 15 wards with one councillor each? It's hard to get more local than that.

Whether such a system would make use of the Single-Transferable Vote system the council has adopted is questionable.

It seems more likely the council would opt for several wards with several councillors each. That way there is more chance, under STV, of having a diversity of age, race, religion and gender around the council table more in line with the city as a whole.

But if that is to be the case, then each ward needs to elect the same number of councillors.

The present system is manifestly unfair in that each ward elects varying numbers of councillors, either two, three or four.

This gives residents in some parts of the city more say in who is at the council table than those in others.

Redrawing the wards will not be a simple task, but it is what councillors have voted for. Good luck to them.

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- Manawatu Standard

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