A decision by the Rotorua Lakes Council today to admit two Te Arawa representatives into its inner sanctum may have aroused public antipathy but it is being regarded as ground breaking for the nation.

The council, which recently changed its name from the Rotorua District Council, voted to allow Te Arawa representatives up to two voting rights on its two subcommittees.

Te Arawa also wanted a say on the performance of the chief executive, but this aspect of the original proposal has been dropped.

Precipitating the decision led to the formation of  the Rotorua Pro-Democracy Society, the secretary and public voice of which is retired academic Reynold Macpherson.

He and councillor Mike McVicker co-founded the society, quickly joined by three other councillors Glenys Searancke, Peter Bentley and Rob Kent.

These four opposition voices were joined today by councillor Mark Gould, which tightened the vote 8-5, with Rotorua Mayor and former Labour led government Cabinet Minister Steve Chadwick voting for Te Arawa’s proposal.

Five days of hearings were devoted to the some 240 oral submissions, with the extraordinary sight of Macpherson text messaging questions two at least two councillors – Bentley and Kent – to convey to submitters at the end of their oral views.

Bentley has denied taking text messages from Macpherson. When pressed, and asked four times by me to confirm or deny whether he had been involved in subliminal questions, he would not respond.

In itself a distraction – Chadwick later confirmed other councillors had noticed the text messaging activity – Macpherson had several weeks earlier accused the council of corruption, which drew a livid response from chief executive Geoff Williams.


At the weekend, the society issued, through Macpherson, a figure of patrician elegance, a corrosive statement accusing the council and by inference Mrs Chadwick of leading in a “brutal town” and “crude tyranny”.

Key aspects of today’s decisions were:

• Up to two appointed iwi representatives on the Strategy, Policy & Finance and Operations and Monitoring committees – with voting rights.

• Changed delegations for the two subcommittees to confine them to having the power to make recommendations to full the council only, rather than make decisions on behalf of full council. At present they are able to make decisions on certain matters with others requiring a full council decision.

• Maximum costs for the council to be $250,000 annually, except for Te Arawa elections every three years when the maximum budget will be $290,000.

Te Arawa’s proposal supporters argued historical rights under the Treaty of Waitangi while those attached to the society said they could not support anything other than the one-man-one-vote principle. A Te Arawa Standing Committee formed in 1993 was found to have no influence when Chadwick replaced Kevin Winters as mayor in 2013. The committee was subsequently suspended while the council searched for new accommodation with Te Arawa as obliged by the Local Government Act.

Book ending Te Arawa’s proposal was knowledge that at least two other territorial authorities – Marlborough and Waipa – had found no bother in Maori inclusion, with voting rights, around their tables. The Mayor of Marlborough, Alistair Sowman, told me in an interview the model was working well there.

Yet, Maoridom, with 35 marae in Rotorua, has a denser population. While it has several councillors – Trevor Maxwell, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait and Tania Tapsell – with direct Te Arawa links, they were elected at large.

As 20-year-old councillor Tania Tapsell told today’s meeting: “We have no right to represent Te Arawa; we represent the whole of the community.”

Volumes of letters to the Rotorua Daily Post and community paper Rotorua Review were analysed by the council which may have missed a trick or two in its assessment. It jumbled the letters into pros, cons and not applicables on the Te Arawa topic, with a majority favouring those against the proposal. Not apparently taken into account was that six pro society members had written 53 of the letters which appeared, stacking the percentages in their favour.

Throughout an issue which has clearly divided sections of Rotorua, references fractiously were made to the regimes of Hitler and Saddam Hussein, with one submitter and society member former councillor Cliff Lee introducing current affairs, as the riots in Baltimore had that very morning dominated news agencies.

One councillor saddened by what has rivened the community is Glenys Searancke, whose late husband Graham, a Maori, was descended from the north Waikato Herangi iwi. She voted against the proposal primarily in support of 60% of Maori in Rotorua not attached to Te Arawa.

But proponents argued that since a document in the late 1800s called the Fenton Agreement had by and large dissipated over succeeding decades Maori had become irrelevant in the running of the town. This they wanted to redress, as Maori had over many years donated land to the Crown, which it had supported ironically to protect is resources (land). Maori had concluded in the 1880s it was best to sidle with the Crown than oppose it and face the humiliation of land confiscation. It was well aware of government land rapacity outside its bailiwick.

One local chemist, Ian Edward, whose brother a dentist Stewart Edward a former chairman of the Lakes District Health Board, explains Te Arawa’s generosity this way: “Whenever tourists enter my shop I open a map of Rotorua, showing how generous Te Arawa have been,” Edward said.

On the map, he said Kuirau Park to the west was donated; the hospital to the north on Pukeroa Hill likewise; to the east the self explanatory Government Gardens; and to the south former railway land now back in Maori or Ngati Whakaue control as a large mall.

While the society has lost this round, it will no doubt suspend its next action for a month while it gauges public reaction through letters to the editor in our newspapers. It’s safe wager, given recent form, most of these letters will come from society members, sanctioned by Macpherson, who has said he would use every legal means of protest against the proposal.

So far, not everything has been above board: the little matter of whether he was text messaging councillors at the hearings is a form of corruption of the process and needs an answer.