Probe sought for Beit Shemesh, Tel Mond officials

Lindenstrauss kept his promise to name names and hold individuals responsible for alleged seriously negligent behavior.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on Wednesday announced he had asked the attorney-general to open a criminal investigation into findings Lindenstrauss's office made regarding municipal officials in Beit Shemesh and Tel Mond in his annual report on the local authorities. In his first regular annual report since being elected state comptroller, Lindenstrauss made good on his promise to name names and hold individuals responsible for alleged seriously negligent behavior. According to Lindenstrauss, the most serious examples of improper administration were found in Beit Shemesh and Tel Mond. In Beit Shemesh, he found that the local authority did not do a proper job of looking for illegal construction. For example, it somehow failed to report on illegal construction perpetrated by Mayor Daniel Waknin and five other current or former members of the municipal council, including David Ben-Hamo, Rabbi Golan Shalit, Zvi Velitzki, Shalom Menorah and Yehuda Medizda. The report found that in some cases where illegal construction was reported, city officials ordered the building inspection department to drop the matter. For example, inspectors discovered that city councilman Menorah was building 90 square meters in his home without a permit. Soon afterwards, a letter was sent from the mayor's office telling the inspector, "Don't submit your findings for an indictment." In another case, the town architect told a city inspector to stop dealing with a case in which parking spots on a city street were converted for another use, in violation of the town planning scheme and without a permit. In Tel Mond, Lindenstrauss found that the city presented false information to the Education Ministry to receive funding for educational facilities in an educational complex that were not actually built. The ministry agreed to provide funding for a classroom building and another building containing a radio and television studio, laboratories and an auditorium. In 2001, the local council claimed it had built both structures and asked the ministry to pay up. In fact, it had only built the classroom building, but charged for both and threw in the cost of paving a parking lot and work on a primary school as well. The following year, it decided to build a junior high school building on the site of the building which was to have housed the studios, laboratories and auditorium. The ministry paid NIS 2.48 m. for the structure built on the site, which had been earmarked for something else. Other topics that he investigated included the conduct of the local building and planning councils in Beit Shemesh, Rishon Lezion, Tel Aviv, Zmora, Hof Hasharon and Emek Hefer. Lindenstrauss wrote that "the findings point to the fact that the councils sometimes found ways to sidestep the planning and building laws and even routinely made decisions based on planning policy which contradicted the overall planning policy and district planning council decisions." He also investigated the way several local authorities cared for the needy in their cities, including Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Bat Yam, Petah Tikva and Netanya. He wrote that "the increase in the worrying phenomenon of homeless people alongside the faulty handling of children and young girls in danger arouses concern for Israeli society in general." The state comptroller also probed the way some authorities dealt with preservation of sites with special cultural, historic and architectural value and found that "irreversible harm" had been done to some of them. Lindenstrauss wrote that many local authorities established municipal companies to carry out certain functions, but did not supervise them properly. Furthermore, elected officials established non-profit organizations and funneled public money into them which they controlled, thus placing themselves in a conflict of interests. Lindenstrauss found that many local authorities did not collect municipal taxes from IDF and Defense Ministry installations within their boundaries. The Defense Ministry, for example, owed millions of shekels to the local authorities, he wrote.