The Tel Aviv Municipality has agreed to release key documents containing details
on municipal policy and decision-making. The move came in response to growing
public pressure and charges of a lack of transparency at the highest municipal
The newly released documents contain information about the
workings of several dozen municipal committees, including one which has been
described as the city’s supreme decision-making body, as well as the particulars
of the city’s yearly budget.
A recent Metro article exposed claims that a
secretive and little-known institution at the municipality has effectively
supplanted the city council as the body that runs the city. According to a
number of sources, the institution, known as the “Management Committee” (va’adat
hanhala), operates behind closed doors and with a total lack of
The Management Committee is the most powerful of several
dozen committees. Composed mainly of city council members, these committees are
charged with hammering out policy on issues such as the city’s school system,
environmental protection and transportation.
Like the Management
Committee, most committees do not publish records of their discussions, making
it difficult for the public and nongovernmental organizations to keep track of
Adding to the controversy, motions raised in the city council
for debate are almost always transferred to the various committees for
discussion, where their fate is often unclear.
Critics charge that most
of the committees are essentially meaningless, many of them meeting only rarely,
while the real decision-making power rests with the Management
In response to the report, the Tel Aviv Municipality issued a
surprising statement claiming that “any citizen may review the minutes of
[Management Committee] meetings.” The statement added that “Management Committee
meetings do not take place in the dark.”
That statement took Tamar
Neugarten of Council Watch by surprise. A project of the Tel Aviv Green Forum
(under the auspices of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel),
Council Watch (mishmar hamoetza) monitors environmental decision-making on the
city council. In recent months it has been involved in a public campaign to open
up municipal committees, including the Management Committee, to public
ACCORDING TO Neugarten, transcripts of Management Committee
meetings had never before been presented as available to the public. “We weren’t
sure if they were serious or not,” she told Metro recently.
Eager to hold
the municipality to its word, Council Watch quickly submitted a formal request
to view the transcripts of the Management Committee’s meetings.
same time, a letter was sent to City Council Chairwoman Yael Dayan requesting
that transcripts of all committee discussions be posted on the municipality’s
Web site. The letter noted that this was already standard practice in other
cities, including Jerusalem and Modi’in.
Council Watch eventually – two
months later – gained access to the Management Committee transcripts, following
what Neugarten describes as an exhausting bureaucratic runaround. It was
apparently the first time a public interest group had been allowed to analyze
the documents, which were sitting in storage in the municipal
Around the same time, an amendment to the city council’s
procedural guidelines was brought for a vote on the city council. Proposed by
council members Yoav Goldring and Tamar Zandberg, the amendment stated that
transcripts of all municipal committee discussions would be made “available to
the public.” Previously, the guidelines had stated that they would be available
only to city council members.
The amendment passed unanimously, without
During the same meeting, however, the mayor made it clear that
the public would still not be allowed to attend committee meetings.
the members of Council Watch, it was a radical and welcome step toward
In response to an inquiry by Metro, the municipality
pointed out that minutes from city council meetings, as well as the Planning and
Construction Committee and Licensing Committee, are already published on the
municipality’s Web site. Regarding the transcripts of the Budget Committee and
Management Committee discussions, the city promised that they would be posted
In the meantime, Council Watch has already begun examining
the newly obtained Management Committee documents and is working on compiling
summaries of the committee’s recent meetings and decisions, which will be
published on its Web site.
An initial analysis, said Neugarten, confirmed
some of Council Watch’s suspicions.
“We found that there is a sizable
backlog of subjects up for discussion, and that they are discussing issues that
are supposed to be dealt with by other committees,” she said.
AT THE same
time, she added, the transcripts show Management Committee meetings to be
serious and professional, with detailed presentations made by officials and
outside experts, something which she said does not necessarily happen in city
“These are serious and important discussions,”
Neugarten concludes, “and I don’t think they need to hide them from the
In another victory for transparency advocates, the Tel Aviv
Municipality will begin publishing its yearly budget online and in an open
format, beginning with the 2011 budget.
In late 2009, for the first time
ever, a copy of the NIS 4.24 billion municipal budget was published online
before coming up for discussion by the city council.
members of the city council protested that the document was published in a
closed format (the municipality chose to publish the budget in several hundred
pages of pdf files) that did not allow for easy, computerized analysis. Such
analysis was necessary, they argued, in order to expose distortions in the
city’s budget allocations – for example, alleged discrimination in education
funding – before the city council vote.
City officials, however, refused
to accede to the request, arguing that the municipality did not have the
technical capacity to export the budget file in an open format. Not everyone was
convinced, and in early 2010 Ir Lekulanu (City for Us All), an opposition
movement on the city council, and the Movement for Freedom of Information, a
nongovernmental organization, took the municipality to court.
strategy paid off. In early July, one day before the Tel Aviv District Court was
scheduled to discuss the case, the city suddenly announced that it had solved
the technical problem and that it would release next year’s budget in an open
format, which would be available to the public on the municipality’s Web
The peculiar timing of the announcement led Ir Lekulanu activists
to theorize that the municipality had realized it was headed for an embarrassing
defeat in court.
The municipality disputed this, saying in a statement:
“The request to receive the budget file, specifically in an Excel file, was not
possible technologically, and there was no legal obligation [to do so], yet
despite this the mayor announced that the file would be released when that
became possible. And indeed, when it became possible, the municipality consented
to do so.”