A petition calling for a public poll on the issue of Maori wards for Western Bay of Plenty District Council has been delivered today.
Petitioners arrived at council offices on Barkes Corner at 12pm with boxes containing more than 4000 signatures.
Of those, they say a random check shows at least 2532 are eligible voters within the district, and therefore entitled to call for a poll.
1708 signatures are required to initiate a public poll on the issue of Maori wards, which a majority of councillors voted in favour of at a meeting in November 2017.
The three councillors who voted against the decision – Mike Lally, Margaret Murray-Benge, and Kevin Marsh – joined other residents in presenting the petition.
Kevin says he was surprised when his fellow councillors voted in favour of the proposal, but is happy to stick to the position he took in November.
“We're all equal in this world. We all have the right to stand for council – there's no favouritism,” he says.
“I believe the council went about it the wrong way – we should have consulted with the public first, which is what's going to happen now anyway.”
Mike, who has been on the street collecting signatures these past few weeks, says Maori wards are race-based legislation, which is wrong.
“We're all Kiwis,” he says. “What's most concerning to me is the level of distrust out there towards the council. We had someone asking us to make sure we had copies of the petition, because they didn't trust the council with them.”
He also thanks all the volunteers from around the district who helped with door-knocking and collecting signatures on the street.
For her part, Margaret says she supported the petition because the only way she could ever be on council as a woman was if all people were treated equally.
“I was determined to resist any shift from that position to a different philosophy,” she says.
“The community is also uncomfortable with not having been consulted.”
She expects the resulting public vote to overwhelmingly reject Maori wards for the Western Bay of Plenty.
“What was so sad is the mayor raised the expectations of one sector of society, without consulting with everyone else. I think there will be consequences for him in 2019 especially as a result.”
Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber declined to comment on the petition, other than saying it was within the rights of petitioners to call for a poll.
A council spokesperson says if the petition proves valid a poll will be held on Saturday May 19 (voting closes at midday) and will be conducted under the provisions of the Local Electoral Act 2001 by the council's electoral officer.
"The review of representation arrangements in something the council is required to undertake every six years. It is where we look at the structure of the council and its community boards, how elected members are elected.
"The review initially considers the electoral system, Maori wards, and then representation arrangements. The representation arrangements process involves public feedback/submissions and will be finalised after the outcome of the Maori wards poll is known."