Incoming J'lem mayor pushes off municipal staff shakeup

The mayor-elect plans to run the city "similar to a government office," using separate personal and city spokespeople, his office said in a press release.

barkat  224 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
barkat 224 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Despite campaigning on a platform of change, Jerusalem Mayor-elect Nir Barkat will not be making major personnel changes in the municipality during his first months in office, his spokesman said Sunday. Barkat, who officially takes office on Wednesday, had been expected to shake up the municipality, which he has repeatedly criticized for mismanagement and for failing to properly serve residents. The move, which is meant to allow a smooth transition into office and to calm jitters over massive firings, will see both city director-general Yair Ma'ayan and municipality spokesman Gidi Schmerling retaining their positions for the next few months. At the same time, a decision to keep acolytes of outgoing Mayor Uri Lupolianski in their positions beyond Barkat's first 100 days in office could bode ill for the new mayor in the long-term. Schmerling, in his dual capacity as spokesman for both the city and Lupolianski, has repeatedly put out official municipal announcements condemning Barkat over the years when the latter served as opposition leader. Like other municipal employees, the city spokesman's contract was automatically extended several months ago for the coming year, but could be terminated in the future by Barkat, city officials said. The mayor-elect plans to run the city "similar to a government office," using separate personal and city spokespeople, his office said in a press release. Barkat will appoint his spokesman of three years Evyatar Elad as media adviser and personal spokesman, but, in keeping with municipal regulations, Elad will not serve as city spokesman. Elad, who did his military service in the IDF Spokesman's unit and worked briefly at the Prime Minister's Office and with Israel Radio, said Sunday that "the incoming mayor is not dealing with [municipal] appointments before he takes office, and the issue will only be discussed and decided upon after he takes office." Meanwhile, Barkat has officially appointed his longtime confidante Michal Shalem as chief of staff, his office said. Shalem, 45, who held the position for the last five years during Barkat's tenure as opposition leader, is considered the person closest to Barkat besides his South African-born wife Beverly. A former businesswoman, Shalem will be responsible for the mayor's connection with the city's director-general and city-owned companies, and will be charged with foreign relations, strategic planning and business development. In the meantime, Barkat is still negotiating with the two major haredi parties to enlarge his secular and modern Orthodox city coalition in the coming weeks. Last week, Barkat announced that he had formed a "preliminary" city council coalition with 18 out of the 31 council members, and named five out of six deputy mayors. The haredi parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, make up 12 seats in the city council. The mayor-elect, who has expressed his desire to form a wall-to-wall coalition with the haredim, is expected to work hard to get at least one of the two parties into his coalition to ensure its long-term stability.