Structural review backs ward system

After a year-long process costing about $7500, the only change to come from the Central Otago District Council's representation review was a name change for one of its community boards.

After the October election, the Roxburgh board will be known as the Teviot Valley board.

In a decision released yesterday, the Local Government Commission has upheld the council's resolution to retain the status quo in regards to representation - there will still be 10 councillors and one mayor around the table after this year's election.

As part of its six-yearly requirement to review representation, the council appointed an independent panel which conducted public meetings early last year and then put forward recommendations, including reducing the number of councillors to eight and conducting at-large elections, rather than ward-based.

The council initially adopted those recommendations with the hope it would attract public submissions and 120 were received, most seeking to retain the ward-based election system.

Commissioners were called in after further submissions were made appealing the council's final proposal, which was to retain the status quo.

Commissioners Basil Morrison, Anne Carter and Grant Kirby held a hearing in March where they heard from the four submitters, Mayor Tony Lepper and his deputy Neil Gillespie.

One submitter, Glen Callanan, proposed changes that were outside the scope of the review.

The other three, former mayor Malcolm Macpherson, former council business development manager Jono Gadd and former councillor and community board member John Rowley, considered the current election system to be broken.

Among their claims were that elections at large would work and would encourage more variety in elected members; the district was increasingly becoming a single community of interest and that needed to be better reflected; and the current system leads to some parochialism in making decisions.

''Although we do not dismiss all the points raised by the appellants about some of the issues related to the current system, we are not convinced they would all be solved by an at-large system,'' the commissioners said in their written determination.

''Our general impression of [the] Central Otago district is that of a relatively large district with distinct communities of interest separated by distinct geographic features and, in some cases, sparsely populated areas.''

They pointed out feedback to the independent panel and submissions to council's initial proposal showed a preference for a ward system and they thought it important to take those views into account.

Mr Lepper said yesterday it was a decision that had been expected and the commissioners had taken the ''most safe option'', just as the council had done.

The commissioners also pointed out the current wards did not comply with the +/-10% representation rule (the Local Electoral Act 2001 requires the population of each ward, divided by the number of members to be elected by that ward, produce a number no more than 10% greater or smaller than the population of the district divided by the total number of electors) but said it would be difficult to achieve that compliance.

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