Conflict of interest

This sounds like a reasonable reshuffling of a city council upon reaching the second half of its term.

Tamir Nir (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Tamir Nir
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
It was another one of those dramatic meetings of the city council.
On March 31, two deputy mayors resigned and one medium scandal attracted attention for a short span of time – while a bigger one was still smoldering.
At this raucous last meeting in March, deputy mayor and veteran city council member Shmuel Shkedi (United Jerusalem) resigned from all of his duties at the council as well as from political life. Tamir Nir of the Yerushalmim list also resigned, following Mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to withhold from him the title (and accompanying salary) of deputy mayor for the duration of this term.
On the haredi benches, a rotation is taking place this month, with Yossi Daitch (representing the hassidim of the United Torah Judaism list) vacating the position of deputy mayor in favor of his partner for the Lithuanian stream on the same list, Itzhak Pindrus.
Meanwhile, councilman Itai Gutler (Zionist Union) has officially become part of Barkat’s list – leaving behind only one council member on duty for the sake of opposition, Laura Wharton of Meretz.
So far, this all sounds like a reasonable reshuffling of a city council upon reaching the second half of its term.
The reason all these changes had to take place at this meeting are precisely connected to reaching that midpoint – as all changes to the portfolios and positions of city council members have to be completed before the beginning of the next two-and-a-half years of this council’s reign.
However, it turned out there was another story behind this, a much juicier one. First, scandal burst out at the nomination of Hagit Moshe. Until last week, she was an employee of the municipality – a coordinator for school inspectors – and now she has become, almost overnight, not only a city council member, but also president of the council’s prestigious finance committee (replacing Shkedi).
Her counterpart on the list, Arieh King, is strongly opposed to the appointment – saying that Moshe has no relevant experience and expressing a concern that she will be no more than a rubber stamp. King refuses to even talk to Moshe. Reacting to the mayor’s decision, he has stumbled upon his own plan – to add councilman Dov Kalmanovitch (Bayit Yehudi), previously on a one-man list, to his own, and hence become a three-member list. This step would automatically grant the united list a title of deputy mayor for one of the three, and King is convinced that the title would be his.
Meanwhile, even though neither Shkedi nor King held the title of deputy mayor, Moshe has inherited one of the two most important committees (alongside the planning and construction panel) – leaving a very angry King, who clarifies that he was not about to sit still.
A more serious issue now appears to have surfaced. Shkedi, who has chaired the finance committee since Barkat’s last term (replacing councilman Eli Simhayoff, who had to resign following his indictment in the Holyland Affair), never had the right to do so. According to a ruling on conflict of interest in local council administration at the Justice Ministry, Shkedi was legally prevented from being a member of the finance committee, let alone chairing it.
The first time this issue appeared was back in 2007, one year before Barkat was elected as mayor. The then-legal adviser of the municipality, attorney Yossi Havilio, issued a communication stating that Shkedi could not serve on the planning and construction committee (nor preside over it).
Havilio, today head of the Tzahor nonprofit – and one of Barkat’s fiercest opponents – confirmed in a phone conversation with In Jerusalem that he himself wrote up the legal position and handed it over to Shkedi and to then-mayor Uri Lupolianski.
In 2014, after Barkat was again elected mayor, Shkedi was appointed president of the finance committee.
According to a municipality spokesman, sometime that year a request was made by municipality legal adviser Eli Malka to the Justice Ministry, asking for a legal position on Shkedi’s right to preside over that committee.
For Havilio, the explanation was simple: Shkedi represented a conflict of interest due to his financial dealings in the city. Yet according to a source inside the Justice Ministry, the municipality’s request of 2014 “took an unexpectedly long time to be checked.”
A ministry spokesman confirmed to In Jerusalem this past Monday that the matter indeed took a long time for several reasons, but a final legal communication ruling that Shkedi could not, under any circumstances, serve as a member of or chair the city’s finance committee, reached the municipality this past January – about three months before Shkedi decided to resign anyway.