Corridors of Power: Gone fishing

The mayor and his senior staff are on extended leave, but Jerusalem is faring well without them.

The July-August heat wave has officially reached Kikar Safra. Mayor Nir Barkat responded with a family cruise to cool and refreshing Alaska, and most of his deputies also took a break from the bureaucracy and the riots in the capital's streets. But even during these hot and debilitating days, Corridors brings you the stories from behind the scenes. The fact that so many at city hall - both elected councillors and senior clerks - have been absent these days led city councillor Meir Margalit (Meretz) to pose the question Why do we need all these expensive, high-ranking people? "Over the past few weeks, the mayor and most of his staff have been on vacation and behold, a miracle: Nothing bad has happened, the city is still holding firm, and everything works fine," quipped Margalit, adding that he is considering raising the issue at one of the upcoming city council meetings. "Who knows? Maybe we can save some of the taxpayers' precious money," he said. Margalit was half serious, half sarcastic, but the fact is that for the past five years there hasn't been a culture department head at city hall, yet everyone agrees that the cultural scene in the city has blossomed. So what does that mean? Could it be that contrary to all the theories it is not necessary to have a head of the culture department in order to offer a decent cultural life to the residents? And what does that assumption say about other high-ranking officials? Do we need a social and youth department head in order to have some activities for young people in the city? Who says that the head of a department is better than a devoted city councillor, who knows he has to deliver the goods in order to be re-elected? Margalit himself added quickly that he didn't mean to sound too subversive; but still, if a good director is one whose own absence won't keep the job from getting done, when exactly does that gifted boss becomes superfluous? "That's precisely what I say. If everything works fine when the mayor, his deputies and some department heads are on leave, perhaps we should save the cost of hiring them and use the money for other purposes," Margalit remarked. Still, at least one senior official at Kikar Safra never seems to rest and has no plans to take a break. City attorney Yossi Havilio recently issued a letter addressed to all city councillors, with a copy to the mayor (minutes before he left for his cruise). The letter requested that city councillors refrain from representing residents before officials at city hall in those cases where residents feel they were misunderstood or mistreated. According to the sources who are still present at Kikar Safra, a large number of city councillors felt personally targeted by Havilio's letter but nevertheless announced that they had every intention of continuing to try to help residents lost in the labyrinths of the bureaucracy. "That's what I was elected for," was Margalit's reaction. "Not only will I continue to help residents who ask for my support, but I will do it with even more enthusiasm." Margalit's fellow Meretz councillor Deputy Mayor Pepe Allalu remarked that city council members supplications to the clerks at city hall should be carefully expressed so as to avoid any interference in their professional work. But he added that within these limits, such a thing couldn't be prevented. Even Barkat didn't seem particularly concerned that city councillors might interrupt the work of the clerks at city hall, which brings us back to the opening of this column. At least city councillors (who do not get a salary for their work, unlike deputy mayors who are rewarded handsomely for their efforts) are not in danger of becoming superfluous.