Friday, December 3, 2021

Reynold Macpherson: Rotorua’s Manipulated Representation Decision

The evidence is that Council’s decision-making at the November 19 meeting over representation structures was manipulated towards ends predetermined by the Mayor; 50/ 50 co-governance.

How? Council’s agenda for 19 November proposed a “final representation model” of 1 Māori seat, 1 General seat and 8 At Large seats for councillors (1M:1G:8AL). It also sought to empower the Chief Executive to campaign for a law change to achieve the 3M:3G:4AL model that the Mayor and her supporters preferred, even though it had already been deemed to be unlawful by the Local Government Commission because it failed to meet the formula in law that guarantees proportional representation.

It came as a surprise that a ‘foreshadowed motion’ in writing by Cr Mercia Yates had been accepted by the Chair before the meeting. It introduced a 2M:4G:4AL model as an automatic fall back if the 1M:1G:8AL structure failed.

Cr Yates’ claim that it was an ‘independent’ motion proved deceitful. She admitted that she had consulted senior officials beforehand. Her foreshadowed motion was absolutely ‘word perfect’ in representing the latest views of the Mayor and her supporters. It was either a modern-day miracle or fraudulent and redolent of predetermination.

Which is why I proposed an amendment in case both options in the foreshadowed motion failed. It was to give elected members an alternative that was known to be widely preferred. I asked for 3 seats for the Māori ward and 7 seats for the General ward (3M: 7G). This option would deliver voter parity or equal suffrage and proportional representation because 28% are in the Māori electoral population and 72% are in the General electoral population.

In my opinion, the Mayor then made an outrageous misinterpretation of Standing Order 22.5, on the advice of senior officials, by refusing to accept my amendment on the spurious grounds that it was a ‘direct negative’. It was not. She was, in my view, badly advised by politicized officials.

My amendment was relevant to and proposed to modify both the 1M:1G:8AL model and the fallback 2M:4G:4AL model. It should have been considered as a second fallback model because it had the triple advantage of being lawful, obviated the need to challenge the law requiring proportional representation, and is satrongly preferred by most interest groups.

The most disgusting aspect of the Mayor’s ruling was that, even if Yates’ foreshadowed motion failed in its entirety, it was predetermined that the 3M:7G model could not be considered for another six years. Who does she think she is? It was a closed process and an undemocratic gerrymander intended to achieve predetermined outcomes.

The process was all about gerrymandering 50/ 50 co-governance. The 1M:1G:8AL will give those on the Māori Roll the same number of votes for councillors as those on the General Roll. However, allowing the 28% on the Māori Roll to elect one councillor, while the 72% on the General Roll will elect another, will give them 2.6 times the electoral power. The same perversion of electoral power applies to voting for 8 At Large seats. The gerrymander is a gross corruption of the democratic principles of equal suffrage or voter parity and proportional representation often expressed as ‘one person, one vote, one value’.

Te Tatau o Te Arawa is Council’s policy advisory commit elected from the Te Arawa diaspora. Te Tatau’s Potaua Baisiny-Tule and Cr Tania Tapsell were right to protest the manipulation and predetermination involved. I was sickened by the support given by other councillors to the undemocratic rationale provided.

Cr Fisher Wang flipped from his SP&F position to join the Mayor and Crs Dave Donaldson, Mercia Yates, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait and Trevor Maxwell in favour of 1M:1G:8AL. Crs Sandra Kai Fong, Peter Bentley, Raj Kumar, Tania Tapsell and I voted against it.

Given the weight of opinion supporting 3M:7G expressed at the Hearings, in the Open Letters to Council by Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers and Grey Power, and Te Tatau o Te Arawa, none of these communities of interest will regard the decision as being in the public interest and as fairly representing Rotorua’s diversity.

The rest of Felix Desmairis’ excellent summary[1] gives space to bizarre justifications for the foreshadowed motion, such that it “reaffirmed the council's preference for a co-governance model, noting that was unlawful, and that the electoral system in Rotorua should honour the Rotorua Township [Fenton] agreement and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.” Neither Fenton nor Te Tiriti speak to local governance structures. These were disreputable ‘dog whistle’ arguments without evidence and logic. In politics, a ‘dog whistle’ is the use of coded or suggestive language in political messaging to garner support from a particular group without provoking opposition.

It follows that the Mayor’s attempt since the meeting to portray the decision making as “open and transparent” was absurd when it was so obviously manipulated and predetermined. Cr Yates’ attempt to portray the decision making as heroic, and as being consistent with Fenton and Te Tiriti, were ridiculous and self-serving ‘dog whistles’ that could only fool the impressionable.

The political ‘bottom line’ now is that the 3M:7G (Option 1 during the consultations) was the strongest preference in the submissions and presentations at the Hearings, in the Open Letters from RDRR and Grey Power, and by the Council’s own Māori policy advisory board, Te Tatau o Te Arawa. This clear consensus was denied by the manipulation of meeting procedures intended to obtain the co-governance outcomes predetermined by the Mayor’s power bloc.

I urge interest groups to appeal against the decision to the Local Government Commission on the grounds that it was manipulated and predetermined and does not represent the wishes of most communities of interest in the Rotorua District. What do you think?

Dr Macpherson is Chairman of the Rotorua District Residents and Ratepayers and developed this paper to keep the 1099 members informed about further developments in the Representation Review. He is also an elected member of Rotorua Lakes Council.


Robert Arthur said...

A definition of M,G, AL would assist many.

Lesley Stephenson said...

Manipulated and predetermined is business as usual for Councils' in my experience.