Getting ready for summer

The last city council meeting of the year was just like all the others.

saar netanel (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
saar netanel
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Remember the last day of school? Remember how excited we were, dressed in new, clean summer clothes? Remember the festive atmosphere, which no one dared to spoil? Well, memories are one thing. Local reality is another. And yes, we're not writing about school here, but about the last city council meeting of the year, before the council recessed for summer vacation. But still, we could dream about a festive, pleasant event - even if, in reality, the meeting was neither festive nor pleasant. No, dear readers, the last meeting of the year was similar to all the previous meetings of the year - endless clashes between the opposition and the coalition, spiced with all the usual ingredients - anger, cynicism, rudeness, with very little attention to the citizens' interests. Citizens' interests?! you smirk. Is she serious? Well, I respond, we are allowed to delude ourselves, at least a bit, no? The meeting started with a non-starter. The session was scheduled for 6 p.m. Since most of the opposition members had also been invited to the opening of the film festival, they showed up precisely on time. But the majority of the coalition members had no intention of attending the film festival, so they didn't show up on time. After dozens of phone calls and pressure from the city council whip (yes, there is such a function; after all this is a democratically elected body), the meeting finally convened at 6:40 p.m. The movie aficionados from the opposition rows were impatient - except for the opposition leader, Nir Barkat, who preferred to watch the World Cup soccer game, which was to begin much later. The first part of the meeting was dedicated to one of those gimmicks so dear to our mayor. While the Knesset had voted to allow for a 3.08 percent municipal tax (arnona) hike, Mayor Uri Lupolianski decided to be magnanimous and raise taxes by a mere 2.5%. But a brief calculation provides us with some very interesting information: the difference between the Knesset's rates and the municipality's rates comes to a mere NIS 12 a month per family. "Barely a portion of felafel in a pita," a high-ranking official in Kikar Safra quipped with more than a bit of sarcasm. But the issue didn't end there, because, in any case, it's not up to the mayor or the city council to raise or cut municipal taxes - the Interior Ministry has to approve the decision. And according to sources at the Interior Ministry, there is no way that the ministry will agree, since the city is still involved in its rehabilitation program and because, as a senior official said, "If the minister approves the reduction for Jerusalem, it will create a precedent for other cities. The ministry can't afford that." So what was all the fuss about? "Just another PR performance," city council member Pepe Allalu (Meretz) said bitterly. "As far as the mayor and his PR advisers are concerned, there's always the chance that at least some citizens will only remember that the mayor had good intentions - even if he is the first to know, or should be the first to know, that there was nothing behind those intentions," he continued. After this celebration, the real show began: during the next part of the meeting, city council member Saar Netanel (Meretz) presented a declarative statement that - and I quote - "Mayor Uri Lupolianski is not a mayor for all the citizens." The reference to the mayor's opposition to the gay pride parade was obvious, since Netanel is openly gay. In previous meetings, this has been the signal for a verbal duel between the two men. But this time, the mayor tried a new tactic. He handed the reins of control over to his deputy, Yehoshua Pollack, and, with some fanfare, stepped out of the meeting for about 20 minutes, while Netanel tried desperately to get the mayor to listen to (or scream at) him. Officially, the mayor explained that he simply had to go out for a moment - which is perfectly natural and legitimate. And at least two city council members of the opposition insist that they, too, believe that the mayor's timing was unintentional. But Netanel and other opposition members are convinced that the mayor simply did not want to listen to what Netanel had to say. But by that time, the City Council hall was almost completely empty. So unless something really dramatic occurs, our 30 elected representatives are free until the end of August. As far as the 11 opposition members - who do not receive any remuneration for their hard work - are concerned, this is a most welcomed leisure time.