It's an issue that has gripped the collective imagination of voters in the Timaru District. Not surprisingly.
Indeed, given the strong and diverse views expressed in the Herald over the last week and a half, it would be fair to say that the question of how we vote for our local government representatives has polarised opinion to some degree. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
The holders of those strong opinions may not agree with that last statement, but I have the feeling that the surprise 6-5 vote in favour of the option of voting for all 10 councillors at large, rather than by wards, will see the question of what is the best way robustly debated, in a way it may not otherwise have been.
Had the recommendation of a review panel before the recent council vote - retention of the status quo with one fewer councillor in the Timaru ward - carried the day, it's unlikely much would have been said or written about it, except perhaps for some debate on the loss of the one Timaru seat. That has already been mentioned as potentially problematic in giving the mayor the casting vote in the event of a deadlock, though that's not a situation seen as likely to arise often. Not that it matters now, because the scenario being debated is a vastly different one.
Predictably, much of the opposition expressed by the numerous correspondents who have tackled the issue has come from those in the wards outside Timaru, Temuka-Pleasant Point and Geraldine, who fear local representation disappearing. It is a legitimate concern for rural residents who see Timaru becoming completely dominant in district decisions.
The meeting at which the vote was taken was, tragically, the last council meeting attended by deputy mayor Michael Oliver before his untimely death 10 days ago. At his funeral his widow, Robyn, urged Geraldine residents to make submissions registering their opposition to the at large option.
On the other side of the debate has been the view that voting for councillors at large would mean residents throughout the district could call on any of the councillors for assistance, not just their local representative. There's also been a view expressed that not having competition for the seats in the smaller wards doesn't necessarily ensure the best candidates in those roles. In an at large situation, rural candidates would have to go up against all the district's candidates.
That's just scratching the surface of the debate. It's important to remember, though, that there is the chance for public submissions. It should be a no-brainer for those who feel strongly to air their views through that process.
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