You could have knocked the mayor over with a feather.
When the vote on electoral representation was taken around the Timaru District Council table last evening, everyone expected a five-four result.
A five-four result to dismiss Cr Richard Lyon's notice of motion to retain the ward voting system for the next two elections.
And a five-four result we got, in FAVOUR of Cr Lyon's motion.
All indications had been for the opposite. Mayor Janie Annear, the last to speak, had even said as much.
And then she called for a show of hands. And Cr Tracy Tierney had been swayed by the debate.
Mrs Annear had to count the hands twice. "Well, that's a turn-up for the books," she said.
Which means ratepayers will now get a month to make submissions on retaining the ward system, but with six councillors in the Timaru ward instead of seven, one in Geraldine and two in Temuka/Pleasant Point.
Councillors will then vote again on a final preference.
People might wonder then at the importance of yesterday's vote, yet it will be crucial in framing the coming debate.
Ratepayers will be presented with one option, not two or three as suggested by some councillors yesterday.
And that option will determine the nature of the submissions.
If the option had been for the alternative 10-strong council elected at large, so the submissions would be focussed on that. Sure, people could make submissions on whatever they liked, but the elected-at-large option would be foremost in their minds.
Now it won't be. The focus will be on the ward system.
And they'll be far fewer submissions, because that option is not near as provocative as the at-large one. Which is a danger in itself.
Now, if hardly anyone bothers to submit, and those who do want an at-large council, the vote could switch again.
There is too the chance of an ironical twist to come.
Mrs Annear said one of the factors mentioned in opposition to the ward system was that there was more potential for tied votes and the mayor having the casting vote. This was a red herring, she said, because she would vote for the status quo on contentious issues.
Yet with the death of Michael Oliver, and the absence yesterday of Cr Jo Taylor, there is a chance of such a tied vote on this very issue.
When almost certainly the mayor would vote to retain the wards.
- The Timaru Herald