Bill suspending indicted mayors headed for final Knesset vote

Proposal calls for the formation of a committee that can decide to suspend mayors following their indictment.

December 11, 2013 12:54
2 minute read.
Interior Minister Gideo Sa'ar tours south Tel Aviv, April 9, 2013.

Sa'ar on tour in south Tel Aviv 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

Mayors indicted on corruption charges will be suspended from their job, according to a bill the Knesset Interior Committee unanimously approved on Wednesday for its final reading.

The Interior Ministry-submitted bill, which could become law as early as Monday, calls for the formation of a committee that can decide to suspend mayors following their indictment. The interior and justice ministers would appoint the panel members.

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The committee authorized the bill after the Union of Local Authorities withdrew an objection calling for a suspended mayor to be able to appoint his or her substitute.

“This proposal would send a negative message to the public that, even when the mayor is gone because there is an indictment against him on corruption charges and a committee found him deserving of a suspension, he can decide who will take his place,” Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud Beytenu) said.

All 13 MKs attending the meeting adopted Sa’ar’s position, which is that members of the local council should nominate the replacement mayor.

Soon thereafter, however, MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud Beytenu) wrote on Facebook that “once again, a law is taking sovereignty from the nation and giving it to the courts.”

MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor) demanded that the special committee meetings’ minutes be publicized, but Sa’ar said too much transparency would prevent its members from speaking openly. In the end, the Interior Committee decided that the panel will publicize its conclusions and its reasoning.

On Tuesday, Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu) expressed disapproval of the bill.

“I made it clear to Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar that an indictment isn’t stronger than the voters’ choice,” Regev said. “There should be no suspension unless the mayor is convicted.”

Regev added that the bill had been “forced on the Knesset by the Supreme Court” – a reference to a ruling that suspended Mayors Shimon Gafsou of Upper Nazereth, Shlomo Lahiani of Bat Yam and Yitzhak Rochberger of Ramat Hasharon, but allowed them to run, successfully, for reelection in October.

Regev’s comments come over a month after she invited Gafsou – who was indicted for fraud, bribery and other financial crimes – and his municipality’s legal adviser, Olga Gordon, who reported him for those alleged offenses, to a committee meeting on “work relations between the elected officials and bureaucrats in municipalities.”

Gafsou, a Likud member for whom Regev campaigned in the October municipal election, was the only mayor invited to the meeting, most of which the committee chairwoman spent chastising Gordon.

Regev threw lawmakers who protested out of the meeting, and some of them, including MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor), submitted complaints to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

Days later, Edelstein said there was no legal problem with Regev’s behavior.

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