Corridors of Power: A plague on both their houses

Comparing our mayor to King Henry VIII? Or could it be that I failed to understand British humor?

History can often provide us with insights into current events. Upon hearing that the personal battle between Mayor Uri Lupolianski and the municipality's attorney has already cost us over NIS 500,000, I tried to find a historical precedent. "Remember King Henry VIII, who decided to get rid of his wife, Katherine of Aragon" was the suggestion of an old British friend. "It became an obsession which caused troubled times for England. You should be careful to see that your mayor doesn't become too obsessive," he added, "but maybe I'm being too harsh. After all, London's current mayor..." I was a little shocked. Comparing our mayor to King Henry VIII? Or could it be that I failed to understand British humor? Anyway, my British friend is back in London and you and I are still here - facing the sad fact that, yes, our mayor has already spent NIS 504,000 on a private attorney in his attempt to get rid of Yossi Havilio. Let me be very clear, these shekels come from our taxes. True, Mayor Lupolianski has the right to turn to a private attorney. Since it's the municipality's attorney (who is also chief of the municipality's Legal Department) that he is trying to fire, it was clear from the beginning that even within the sometimes hallucinatory Israeli administration, he had no other choice. Imagine the alternative; Attorney Havilio goes to court to appeal the mayor's decision to fire him, and the mayor is being represented by... Attorney Havilio! Oh my gosh! Let's get back to reality, shall we? A few months ago, Havilio's deputy, Esther Atzmon, issued a decision allowing the mayor to hire a private lawyer to represent him against Havilio's appeal to the labor court of the mayor's and city council's decision to fire him. The authorization specified 100 billable hours, for a total of NIS 38,000, or about $9,000. A few days ago, city councilor Nir Barkat became suspicious. Weren't the 100 hours long over? He asked the municipality's general manager, Eitan Meir, to give him a detailed report. "Meir's answer sounded evasive," recalls Barkat, "and I became more suspicious, so I asked for more precise details." I'll spare you the details, dear readers, but the bottom line is that not only were the original 100 hours over, but the mayor's attorney had already spent 300 additional hours on the case! Among other issues, there was a pathetic attempt to obtain the judge's resignation on the grounds that "she already has too much knowledge of this file." These valiant legal efforts certainly don't come free of charge. But, that's not all. It turns out that nobody got permission for these extra hours, as Barkat learned in a casual meeting of the Commission for Outside Work, where he noticed an item asking for approval after the fact of 300 extra hours for the mayor's private attorney. Now the law, dear readers, requires that such a supplementary budget be approved before the work is done, not after. So it's no surprise that Barkat is threatening to hold the head of the Commission and its members personally responsible. Municipal Comptroller Shlomit Rubin has issued an urgent letter to the Commission urging it not to approve the extra hours, lest the members be forced to reimburse the municipality from their own pockets! And another point, Rubin also found out that 800 more hours have already been added to the municipality's budget for 2007 to pay the same private attorney, for a grand total of 1,200 hours, which means that the mayor's case against Havilio will cost us all at least $144,000, or NIS 619,200 - plus VAT! Obsession, did we say? Well, at least, King Henry was a man in love. But all this to fire a municipal attorney? Haven't we gone too far?