The 'Referendum '06' turn-out was exceptional – over 55% of registered voters cast their votes – over 17,000 people.
1. 'At large' representation
It is a moot point as to whether the Council would have continued with a rural ward if the Local Electoral Act (2001) had not required both a representation review and for mathematical formulae to be applied to that review.
When it became apparent that rural representation would be likely reduced to just one councillor, then the council decided that an 'at large' ward was the favoured method of future representation. There is a strong view that rural voters would effectively be disenfranchised if they were only allowed to vote for the mayor, one councillor and the rural community board.
Council believe rural voters will have greater influence, and that council will take more notice of rural communities and rural issues, if a change to ‘at large’ representation is achieved:
WARD OPTION 1 Mayor, 1 Councillor, 6 Rural Board = 8 representatives
AT LARGE OPTION = Mayor, 10 Councillors, 6 Rural Board = 17 representatives
That said, it is important to note that less than half of rural residents are actually involved in agricultural-related work or industries. Most residents are 'lifestylers' and most rural population is sited within easy reach of urban amenities and facilities.
The rural community of Wanganui is not dramatically disparate from that of the urban community. For most rural dwellers, there is more 'community of interest' with the urban Wanganui district than the rural Wanganui district.
2. Rural Community Board
It is important to note that there was very little interest in former rural community board elections, because the rural board has so little power and was unable to demonstrate effective lobbying as a consequence.
I personally changed that in 2004 by ensuring that the rural board was treated as a standing committee of council (reporting direct to the council and not through other standing committees) and ensuring that every standing committee had a rural board member with speaking rights.
That is now official council policy and is unlikely ever to change.
This arrangement has worked well. It is obvious that the rural community enjoy this enhanced representation by the fact that a by-election in early-2006 attracted four quality candidates whereas, in the past, it would have struggled to attract any.
3. Reducing Councillor Numbers from Twelve (12) to Ten
The interesting thing about this council's proposal to reduce councillor numbers from twelve to ten, is that it is an issue that attracted the most submissions but was the most clear-cut result on representation issues at 'Referendum '06'.
It must be noted that the submissions of many anti-petitioners represent part of a perceived general grievance rather than a specific one. That much is evident in the tenor and claims of some of the submissions.
Putting aside such rhetoric, it is vital to understand that the proposal to reduce councillor numbers has overwhelming community support. 10.014 persons voted to reduce councillor numbers and 6,577 voted to maintain the status quo.
The reality is that Wanganui is over-governed. We have nineteen (19) elected representatives and the council's intent is to reduce that number by two.
The following figures relating to electors and representatives is illustrative:
1 mayor, 3 councilors & 6 rural board members for 3,675 rural electors
1 mayor, 9 councilors for 27,044 urban electors.
1 mayor, 10 councilors & 6 rural board members for 3,675 rural electors
1 mayor & 10 councilors for 30,719 'at large' electors
The urban electors-to-elected representative ratio moves from 2,704: 1 to 2,792:1.
For rural electors, the ratio moves from the extraordinarily low ratio of 367:1 to the even lower one of 216:1.
In summary, the council's proposal aims to:
- streamline council,
- fit in with the general national trend of reducing representative numbers,
- represent the will of the Wanganui people,
- open up the possibility of salary and administrative savings and
- still ensure that there is outstanding access of to elected representatives.