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Proposed changes to Otago Natural History Trust's constitution to allow trust members to be appointed is undemocratic, its founder and former chairman Ralph Allen says.
The trust, which runs Orokonui Ecosanctuary, plans to put recommendations to a special meeting of its members next month, before its annual meeting, making provision for three appointed members, including one from Kati Huriapa Runaka ki Puketeraki at Karitane, to sit alongside six elected members on the trust.
Trust member Dr Allen said that in the 10 years he was chairman a runanga representative had been elected to the board and "not once did we need to give them a permanent and unelected representation on the board".
"The whole thing is a very poorly disguised effort to give iwi a permanent seat and subvert the democratic process."
He did not want to see the proposal become a "divisive issue" and had appealed to the board to change its mind.
"It's my baby. I founded the ecosanctuary. I left my job to do this, dedicated 10 years of my life and it worked perfectly well."
It had only become an issue when the runanga failed to nominate a representative in time for the annual meeting last year and so no seat was left for one, Dr Allen said.
The trust could easily enlarge its board by adding three elected members, people who were voted in because of their competencies and dedication, not for political reasons.
"Members should be elected on merit, not because they belong to any particular group of people."
Trust chairman Neville Peat said the proposals agreed to by the trust were simply about "future-proofing" the trust by formally including organisations and institutions with related expertise.
"It's clarifying the trustee rules around membership."
The runanga or any other organisation important to the running of the ecosanctuary were not now guaranteed a seat on the trust, he said.
The runanga had the right to be consulted on translocations of species.
"We can't do without some of them ... the trust realised we couldn't guarantee voting positions."
Any suggestion the proposal could be divisive was "scaremongering" as the governance control would remain with its membership and the membership would vote on the proposals, Mr Peat said.
Kati Huriapa Runaka ki Puketeraki chairman Matapura Ellison said the runanga was not involved in the discussion but was keen to see formalisation of its role with the trust.
Its support pivoted on some "symbolic formal recognition" in the long term, he said.
"At the end of the day we are looking for a way to anchor the relationship formally in some way."