Editorial: The winner is ... democracy

Last updated 05:00 31/10/2012
timaru district council chambers
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/ Fairfax NZ
CHAMBERS: How much do you know about the workings of the Timaru District Council?

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OPINION: Quiz questions: How many councillors are on the Timaru District Council? How many wards are there, and how many councillors in each? And how is the mayor elected?

The answers: Ten. Three wards, with seven councillors representing Timaru, two representing Temuka/Pleasant Point and one representing Geraldine. The mayor is elected across the whole district.

So what has changed following a lively and sometimes acrimonious debate over council make-up for the 2013 and 2016 elections?

Well, not much actually, and, quite a bit.

On the ballot paper the only difference will be one fewer councillor in the Timaru ward, making for nine overall. (Assuming no-one appeals Monday's council decision).

What this does is open the way for more tied votes by the time you add the mayor's, although there is an understanding that the mayor's second casting vote upholds the status quo, meaning you shouldn't get significant change because of it.

There's also one fewer viewpoint around the table, the counter of which is potentially shorter meetings. They'll also be three rural councillors to six urban, rather than three-seven, although that's not a significant shift. Oh, and there'll be slightly more money for each councillor from the Remuneration Authority-determined pool.

More significant is the greater influence being given to the community boards in Pleasant Point, Temuka and Geraldine. They will now have speaking rights at council meetings. This change came about in reaction to backlash during the present debate, when much angst greeted the council's original intention to have the whole council elected at large, which had the pretty likely outcome of all councillors coming from Timaru itself.

The rural vote was upset not just by this possibility, but because they perceived the council had also ignored its own submission process which favoured retention of the ward system. Then there were some standoffs at two community board meetings, and a late change of mind by council on which option it really did favour.

What's been left though among rural ratepayers is a feeling the urban/rural divide has been reopened, and they told the council so in no uncertain terms by the sheer number of submissions, 800, with 95 per cent favouring wards.

Yet while they won that round the rural undercurrent has been stirred, and may rear its head over the next two terms.

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What the debate pleasingly showed is that democracy is alive on all sorts of levels.

Who said people don't care about local government?

Now, how did you go with those first questions?

- The Timaru Herald

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