By Don Farmer
An attempt to strip away voting rights from two iwi representatives on Masterton District Council committees narrowly failed yesterday when the newly elected council met for the first time.
Only the vote of Mayor Lyn Patterson broke a 5-5 deadlock and ensured iwi reps Ra Smith (Kahungunu ki Wairarapa) and Mihirangi Hollings (Rangitane o Wairarapa) would not only be able to speak but to vote on decisions made at two standing committees, to which they were appointed earlier this year.
Although both are entitled to speak at full council meetings the law forbids them from being able to cast a vote.
Three of four newly elected, first-time councillors were against the pair retaining any voting rights, and one of those, councillor John Dalziell, actually moved the amendment seeking to have voting rights taken away from the appointees.
Mr Dalziell said during the course of the election campaign the issue of allowing appointees to vote had topped the list of voter dissatisfaction.
He said whereas allowing non-elected members to speak at meetings could add value and intellect to a debate, the issue of voting rights “is not so clear cut” and could undermine the very bastion of democracy.
He was supported by councillor Bex Johnson who said in her experience the voting rights issue was also the most contentious of the election campaign.
“No one I spoke to during the campaign was in favour and felt voting rights should apply only to those elected,” she said.
Fellow first-term councillor Frazer Mailman also spoke of voter dissatisfaction.
The trio of new councillors opposed to allowing the continuation of voting rights for iwi were joined by councillors Gary Caffell and Brent Goodwin.
Mr Caffell sought, as he had during the previous council term, to delay matters until all councillors and especially the new ones had time to fully absorb “the voting rights situation”.
He said the rushed debate last term meant “we never got down to tin tacks” before a decision was hastily made.
The long-standing appointment of Phil Jones to chair the council’s Audit and Risk Committee was a different matter, Mr Caffell said.
“Audit and Risk looks at finance and budgetary matters but the two committees the iwi reps are on takes in everything the council does.
“The entire business of council, they get a chance to have a say in everything but it’s voting rights which is the sticking point,” he said.
Councillor Jonathan Hooker rejected Mr Dalziell’s amendment to take away voting rights for the iwi reps who are appointees to the Infrastructural Services Committee and the Community Wellbeing Committee, saying by allowing them to contribute by speaking and voting made for “better decision-making for Masterton”.
Referring to the publicity given to the issue Mr Hooker said it was “dangerous to run a town on the number of column inches appearing in the newspaper”.
Councillor Chris Peterson called it a “sad day” to even be contemplating changing what was now in place, and which had been a decision that put Masterton “on the right side of history”.
New councillor Deb Davidson, who is herself Maori, said the issue only seemed to have arrived when it came to iwi appointments.
She said inviting iwi reps to speak without having a vote was “just tokenism”.
“The council, by appointing iwi reps, had made history… a history we should be proud of.”
Deputy Mayor Graham McClymont and councillor Simon O’Donoghue also rejected stripping away the right for the iwi reps to vote at the committee meeting, as did mayor Lyn Patterson
“Asking the iwi reps to sit round the committee table and speak but not vote is like me giving my two-year-old grandson an ice cream to look at but not to eat,” Mrs Patterson said.
Those who voted to retain voting rights were Deb Davidson, Jonathan Hooker, Graham McClymont, Simon O’Donoghue, Lyn Patterson and Chris Peterson.
Against were: Gary Caffell, John Dalziell, Brent Goodwin, Bex Johnson and Frazer Mailman.