Mevaseret's mayor quits over deficit, then retracts

Former Shabak director Gilon decries his city's financial woes.

Mevaseret Zion council head Carmi Gilon resigned Wednesday and withdrew his resignation Thursday after Interior Minister Roni Bar-On agreed to meet with him on Sunday to discuss the town's growing budget deficit and financial loans for the future. Gilon officially quit on Wednesday after sending a letter to the minister in which he said he could no longer continue in his position if the ministry would not consider ways to reduce the debt and help develop new industry in the area. Gilon, a former Shabak (Israel Security Service) director, pointed out that in the town of 24,000, there was no business community and 86 percent of the municipality's income came from property tax paid by the residents. "This situation is unprecedented compared to other communities of the same size and does not allow, in a basic way, for Mevaseret Zion to reach economic independence," he wrote to Bar-On. In his three years as council head, Gilon said he had greatly improved the town's educational system, working hard to reduce violence in the troubled middle school, and had encouraged the development of a local social welfare system. He also pointed out that much of the town's debt was inherited from previous leaders and that he had been dedicated over the last three years to finding ways to better balance the budget. Gilon added that since starting his tenure, local services and municipal workers had not gone on strike, unlike in previous years, and that he had never failed to pay his workers' salaries on time. In its initial response, the ministry said that all municipal council heads were required to stay within their designated budgets and that they were responsible for deciding where and how much money should be spent. "Should citizens in the rest of the country pay for the services received by Mevaseret Zion residents," the ministry responded. In withdrawing his resignation, Gilon thanked all those who had spoken out on his behalf, including representatives in the Prime Minister's Office, local community leaders and other members of the local municipality. According to Zman Mevaseret, city council members had even discussed staging their own walk-out in response to the lack of cooperation from the Interior Ministry. Mevaseret Zion's residents include numerous politicians such as Tzahi Hanegbi (Kadima), Ran Cohen (Meretz-Yahad), Matan Viln'ai (Labor-Meimad), and Yuval Steinitz (Likud), as well as author David Grossman.