Five local neighborhoods, including one Arab neighborhood, will have new community councils by the end of this year as part of an ongoing program to improve communication between residents and the municipality.The five neighborhoods – Baka-Talpiot (now called Greater Baka), South Jerusalem (a new community council that includes the Katamonim, Rassco, Pat and Givat Oranim), Beit Hanina, Gilo and the Bukharan Quarter – are scheduled to hold elections in December, in accordance with the program led jointly by the municipality and the National Association of Community Councils and Centers.A sixth neighborhood scheduled to hold elections – Ramot – is still on the list for the program but has not yet begun any practical preparations. The reason? The mayor’s decision to hold separate elections for the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector and the rest of the large northern neighborhood (more than 45,000 residents) is fiercely opposed by the haredi residents and their representatives on the city council, the United Torah Judaism and Shas lists. According to officials in the municipality, more time is required to resolve the matter.Following the liquidation of the Jerusalem Association of Community Councils and Centers a little more than a year ago, Mayor Nir Barkat pledged he would launch elections in all the city’s 29 community councils, to see that “more democracy and free representation and participation of the residents is achieved.”Meanwhile, the number of community councils has shrunk to 25 (as a result of uniting small neighborhoods, mostly for economic reasons). Five neighborhoods have already held their elections – Ginot Ha’ir (including Rehavia, the German Colony and Katamon), Pisgat Ze’ev (the results are awaiting a court decision on their legality), Har Homa, Shmuel Hanavi (now called “The Eight Neighborhoods Community Council”) and Beit Safafa.This week, the municipal director of culture, society and leisure, Yossi Sharabi, and the Jerusalem District director of the National Association of Community Centers, Yuli Ben-Lavi, held a press conference at Safra Square, announcing that the second round of elections would take place on December 13.Among other issues, the two mentioned the steps taken to empower women to join the electoral process – such as affirmative action for female candidates – but still expressed their concern that this might not be enough. In fact, added Dorit Shitrit, director of the Greater Baka Community Council, “while most of the active volunteer members on the community council are women, only a few of them have so far registered on the election list.” October 30 is the last day to present a candidacy for one of the above-mentioned community councils ahead of the December elections. No fewer than 84,000 residents are directly affected by the results of these elections, in various aspects of their daily lives – from day-care centers for toddlers, to enrichment programs for the community (especially their cost), to neighborhood cleanliness, construction projects, traffic issues, establishment and maintenance of public parks, and of course cultural events.The councils also involve a wide range of participation in community life, and “since this is strictly based on volunteer activity, it also provides a possibility to enhance leadership among the residents,” explained Yaffa Shitrit, director of the Gilo Community Council.The two women expressed varying levels of concern regarding who would be the final candidates. While the community councils are dedicated to promoting residents’ participation all year round, there is no way to ensure that the current activists will in fact be the candidates. According to the rules, any resident who can prove he or she lives in the neighborhood can become a candidate.Each candidate receives a modest budget through the central elections committee, allowing some degree of advertising, but in fact, personal ties and extended networks are the most effective means of getting elected.“It is true – we have no way of knowing who will be on the board after the elections; that’s the beauty as well as the problematic aspect of this democratic process,” agreed all the directors of the councils present at the press conference.“The community councils have two tasks,” explained Sharabi. “One task is to represent the residents in the different municipal departments and to present their demands and needs, and the other is vice versa, to bring the municipality’s decisions and plans to the residents and promote them in the best way possible for the residents’ needs. Community councils that learn to master these two tracks will be able to facilitate and improve dramatically the quality and the quantity of the services residents can obtain from the central administration of the municipality, and thus improve no less dramatically the residents’ quality of life.”Sharabi and Ben-Lavi, the latter emphasizing the urgent need to bring “new blood” to the councils’ boards, insisted on the need for both active and broad participation. In fact, low participation in the elections might be a serious blow to the whole project, and the two parties have invested a lot of effort in ensuring its success.Apropos of that, it’s worth noting one of the lessons the municipality learned from the previous round of elections earlier this year, when the participation rate in some of the neighborhoods was lower than required by the rules of the community associations (each community council is an association with its own rules and regulations, all with a common basis). As a result, there will be no minimum participation rate for the coming round of elections. Still, the need to convince residents that they should participate is present. One result is that written material explaining the reasons for and importance of the elections has been put out in several languages – Amharic, English, French, Russian and Yiddish.There is also concern regarding the lack of information on candidates in the Arab Beit Hanina neighborhood. Ben-Lavi noted the risk of a new board being identified with politically controversial groups, such as Islamist ones, but repeated that besides the fact that the democratic process remained far more important, the community councils had already achieved the status of representing civil needs and residential interests, and thus had a high chance of remaining neutral.