Corridors of Power

While most of us were trying to soak up the last bits of the holiday season in our beloved city, our mayor never rested for one moment. Receptions, pilgrims, exhibits and cultural activities everywhere - Mayor Uri Lupolianski didn't even have much time to sit in the water succah in Kikar Safra (which, they tell us, was the largest in the world.) We barely had a chance to get over our amazement at the pictures of the mayor picking up doggie poo in a public park and - wow! - there he is on a tractor/a fire engine/a horse-drawn carriage/a row boat or brandishing a paint brush in one of the city's clean-up campaigns. Watching Lupolianski as he dashes about, some observers have begun to wonder what happened to the calm and gentle man who landed in the mayor's office just over two years ago. His energy is boundless and he seems to be everywhere, a pack of advisers and photographers running after him. But after the mayor and his party whizz by, if you still have the energy to look about you, you may notice that the streets are still dirty, the traffic jams are still intolerable and little has changed. It's all smoke and mirrors, something in between ridiculous and what you have to do in this media driven world. But experts far greater than I have cautioned that politicians who are always in high gear, running to the next photo-op, are likely to trip and fall. And that's what must have happened to our mayor during the Jerusalem March, when in one worrisome moment of apparent lost consciousness, he invited controversial oligarch Arkadi Gedaimek to stand by his side in the open-roofed car and wave to the crowds. No, he didn't invite one of Jerusalem's Distinguished Citizens nor a Nobel Prize Laureate. He invited Gedaimek. It was an embarrassing situation: Lupolianski smiled his gentle smile, showing his appreciation for everyone, even his critics. And next to him, Gedaimek, scowling at his subjects. "One of the mayor's advisers got carried away," muttered one of the usual suspects at Kikar Safra, who refused to give his name. "It's a scandal." But it was only a very minor scandal, which might be the real scandal. One Hebrew paper carried a small item, one opposition member sent off an angry letter, and municipal officials snickered. And that was it. The mayor of the most important city in the world appears side-by-side with a man wanted by Interpol and that's the muted response. As we all know, the holidays are a good reason to put things off. And that includes the municipal council. But as the holidays drew to an end, several municipal committees did convene. The committee meetings aren't open to the public. (Although, now that I think of it - why aren't they? They don't deal with anything more secret than the welfare of the residents of our fair city.) The agendas of the committee meetings aren't made public, but like so many top-secret issues in Israel, it's really not very difficult to find them. So here's a sampling: A brief look into the work of the committees for the procurement of municipal services and equipment - the committee that buys equipment and services in our name without asking us - reveals that the sanitation department wants to buy a brand new street-sweeper. Yes, that's right, the very same sanitation department that keeps our streets so clean. But our municipal officials are very careful with our money and they wouldn't want to approve a request blindly. So they decided that they will have to consult with experts before they allow the sanitation department officials to go shopping. According to the committee's records, it will take no fewer than six hours of brainstorming before the sanitation workers will be able to decide - thanks, of course, to help from the well-paid experts - which street-sweeper is best for our city. But that's not all. The same well-paid staff will need another eight hours in order to "examine various types of street-sweepers with agents and distributors." (That's assuming that they are made in Israel. Otherwise, we'll have to pay for their travel-time, too.) Then they will need an additional six hours to examine the technical specifications. Building a cost-benefit table will only take two hours and preparation of the examination of the technical and operational specifications of the street-sweeper will require another four hours of work. Examining the various offers will require a full eight hours, not including a meeting of all of the providers, should that be necessary (that's what's the committee wrote). After all those hours of hard work, you or I might be tired, but not our intrepid workers. They will have to work for another ten hours in order to examine the various models and check out their operational capabilities. And as they approach the finish line of this project, our municipal workers will spare no effort: they will need another 12 hours to check out the first vehicle when it actually arrives. This brings us to 56 hours (not including coffee breaks). It's not hard to figure out how much the employees involved will cost - true, they get a salary anyway. But the experts, who don't get a salary anyway, will be paid a total of $2,128. And in case it's not enough, the proposal states that "in case [the experts] will be required to provide additional hours, the cost of an additional hour of consultation or travel will cost $38, not including VAT. Wait a minute... dollars? Why dollars? Aren't we supposed to be using Israeli currency here in Jerusalem? And I thought street-sweepers were simply supposed to sweep the streets! Is it always like this, or is this an isolated incident? Does it matter? All of this is going on as the municipality lets go of 1,000 workers as part of its rehabilitation program. See you next month, after the next municipal council meeting, as we walk down the corridors of power.