All 10 councillors and the mayor on the next Timaru District Council could come from Geraldine. Or Temuka. Or Timaru. Or somewhere in between.
In reality though, all 10 are likely to come from Timaru, or at least nine of them will.
Such will be the outcome if a rather surprising vote around the council table this week goes the full distance.
Instead of a ward system - seven councillors from the Timaru ward, two from Temuka/Pleasant Point and one from Geraldine - the council has voted 6-5 to switch next year to all councillors being elected at large. The wards will go. The mayor will still be elected at large.
For the record, all six who favoured the "at large" option were Timaru ward representatives.
The vote was surprising in a historical context.
The Timaru District Council was formed in 1989 as an amalgamation of the-then Timaru City Council and Strathallan County Council, and there was a real fear then that rural voters would lose their voice.
The ward structure and community boards helped maintain that voice.
This decision, if retained after further public consultation and another council vote, ends that guarantee.
Long-time councillor Jane Coughlan doesn't see that as a bad thing. After 23 years, she says, surely it's timely for each councillor to represent the whole district.
And there is an argument that such a system will see the best people elected overall, rather than the possibility of electing less able people because they were the only ones to stand in their ward.
The counter argument is that all the councillors end up coming from Timaru, and the rural voice is lost.
Sure, the community boards will remain but that's not a vote at the table.
The reality is that Timaru candidates will have a decided advantage given the population base, human nature and that each voter will vote not for one candidate but 10.
In the 2010 election, the lowest ranked successful councillor in the Timaru ward, Hamish Fraser, secured almost 5500 votes. And that was on a 56 per cent turnout.
There are only 4565 voters in Temuka-Pleasant Point to 5210 in Geraldine. Total. Even if every one of them voted (highly unlikely) for "their" candidate and no- one else, the candidate would still need Timaru votes.
And because people vote for names they know, the rural candidates will struggle.
Geraldine councillor Michael Oliver may be an exception, given his profile as deputy mayor.
What's wrong with the decision is there is still a need for a guaranteed rural voice. This is a rural service town.
This decision can serve only to alienate sectors of ratepayers.
On the big issues, councillors vote now in the interests of the whole district, not just their patch.
The decision also flies in the face of the wishes of the advisory committee on the matter, and the majority of first-round submitters, with both groups favouring retention of a ward structure.
I wonder if the six councillors fully appreciate what they've voted for.
- © Fairfax NZ News