Council infighting over Māori wards exposed

1:30 pm on 12 August 2021

A Napier councillor infight over the unanimous decision not to go ahead with Māori wards in time for next year's election was kept from the public eye.

Emails released to RNZ show a councillor wanted to overturn the decision, but was told her behaviour was "extremely disappointing".

The emails also showed that Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise had made up her mind about her stance before discussions with the community had even begun.

All councils throughout the country had until 21 May to decide if they wanted Māori seats for next year's local body elections.

This came after a law change earlier made it easier for them to do that.

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise

Napier Mayor Kirsten Wise. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

'Not how we treat each other'

In Napier, on Thursday 22 April, the city council unanimously voted not to go ahead with Māori wards for the 2022 election.

The mayor and council argued they did not have enough time to consult with the community.

Early the following week, long-serving councillor Maxine Boag emailed councillors, saying she was planning to send out a media release, expressing her thoughts and asking the council to amend the decision.

"I know it's a long shot but I want us to give it a crack," she wrote.

She sent the release to councillors in the spirit of "no surprises".

Deputy Mayor Annette Brosnan reacted strongly.

"It is fair to say I am extremely disappointed in this standard of behaviour from you," Brosnan told Boag.

"This is 100 percent not the correct way to address your concerns.

"Making a media release of the type you propose 'calling out' your fellow councillors is not only contrary to our standing orders ... but also goes against our elected members' code of conduct, as well as jeopardising the good will and trust you have with your fellow elected members in my view.

"To that end my view is this is not how we treat each other nor how we treat our community."

Annette Bronsan

Napier Deputy Mayor Annette Bronsan. Photo: Supplied

Councillors were planning to have an informal meeting to discuss Boag's idea, but Boag did not go, telling councillors she "didn't feel up to facing a 'court martial'".

"While at home yesterday morning mulling over your response," she told Brosnan, "I received a call from one of the members of the Māori committee ... what they wanted was to know if I could help change the decision made by council ... they said they are being given a hard time by other Māori across the board.

"Their plea was consistent with messages I received after our decision, and the anger expressed against us and the Māori committee on social media. It had been quite shocking seeing the senior kaumatua for NKII [Ngāti Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated] walk out in disgust after our vote.

"My proposal was not to 'call out' other councillors, to be selfish, to put my profile over others, to disrespect our kaumātua, be unethical or do political grandstanding... I just wanted to do what was right and was consistent with my beliefs, values and the Treaty of Waitangi. It was a long shot for sure but I was hoping others might reconsider as I had.

"I believed this stand would be welcomed by the Māori community as a sign of goodwill. It would heal the rift that has developed between us and mana whenua. For me, it meant being honest to myself in standing up for people who are really hurting.

"However, your concern about maintaining trust and goodwill between us is something I do agree with, and is why I did not send the release out at the end."

A few weeks later on 17 May, roughly 100 people protested on the streets of Napier, and Wise said the council would not change its decision, due to the risk of judicial review.

Cape View House on Marine Parade is the current headquarters of the council, including the office of the Mayor.

Cape View House on Marine Parade is the current headquarters of the council, including the office of the mayor. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

'Too important to rush'

However, the emails show Wise had a clear idea on what she wanted from the start, months before the council had to make a decision.

On 4 February, just three days after Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced the changes, the councillors had an informal catch up to discuss the idea of Māori wards.

That afternoon Wise wrote in an email:

"We discussed this [Māori wards] at our councillor catch up today and have decided this conversation with our community - mana whenua, tangata whenua and the wider community - is too important to rush. We need to ensure we engage with the key stakeholders, not make any assumptions about what they may want and consider all of the options.

"As such it would be good if a report could be prepared outlining what the process would look like for a full representation review, including engagement of mana whenua from the very start, with any changes being implemented from the 2025 elections."

This is despite the council's acting chief executive at the time, Keith Marshall, saying although completing a representation review by next year would be a "bullrush mission, there is no reason why it couldn't be completed with a fair wind and some focus".

Representation reviews address the number of councillors there should be and the way they are elected, and have to be done if the council decides to add Māori wards.

'Kōrero Mai'

Napier City Council is still making strides to consider introducing Māori wards.

Councillors will decide whether or not to add Māori wards in November. However, this will not be in time for next year's elections, which left mana whenua outraged earlier this year.

The council has launched a large campaign called "Kōrero Mai", trying to make sure residents know what having a Māori ward means.

From Monday, residents can have their say on whether or not they should be adopted.

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