Sweeping the halls

As 2005 comes to an end, the municipality tries to clean its slate.

lupolianski 224.88  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
lupolianski 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Mayor Uri Lupolianski probably does not plan his schedule according to the Gregorian calendar. Yet this week seemed to be a typical "end-of-the-year-clean-the-desks" type of week. First, the Finance Committee presented the 2006 budget, balanced for the first time in years, and then the final city council meeting for the year 2005 approved it. The balanced and approved budget may have provided temporary relief to our mayor, since the last few weeks have been really tough. The newest round of difficulties started three weeks ago with the municipal "buzz" over the mayor's problematic decision to override his general manager, Eitan Meir, in order to undo the tangle between the workers' committee and the municipality. Zion Dahan, head of the workers' committee, had two meetings with the Mayor - and Meir wasn't present at the first of them. After the second meeting, Dahan finally achieved what he's been trying to achieve for over a year, despite Meir's opposition. In a somewhat irregular decision, the mayor agreed to transfer large sections of the social affairs department's budget to Dahan's protege, Shemi Amsallem, thus making Amsallem head of one of the largest and best-budgeted departments in the municipality. As usual, Lupolianski meant well. But Meir took Lupolianski's decision as an expression of a lack of confidence in him. The city council opposition angrily denounced the "improper procedure." And then the municipality's legal advisor declared the decision illegal and void. Dahan went to court to uphold the decision. He lost - so the mayor did, too. And even the municipal spokesman was criticized for issuing a rather impolite spokesman's reaction. Meir, often known for his own maneuvers and machinations, has come out of the incident as the "righteous man whose work is done by others." And Lupolianski? He's still hoping that the issue will be resolved - somehow. Next, the mayor had to contend with the resignations of Municipal Engineer Uri Shetrit and Micha Bin Nun, head of supervision and enforcement in the engineering department. Bin-Nun, by the way, has, for the moment at least, decided to stay. But he has made it clear that he has yet to have the last word. And sources in Kikar Safra are already predicting that at least two other high-ranking officials might be announcing their resignation soon. And Lupolianski? Dreaming that things will improve. They haven't. Next, our mayor was summoned, earlier this week, to a police investigation. True, we're talking about the "green" - environmental - police. Lupolianski has been questioned regarding his violation of the Environment Ministry's orders to clean up several different spots in the city, including the huge amounts of garbage that have accumulated at the Giv'at Sha'ul cemetery and the wadi (valley) beneath Ein Kerem. The Ministry claims to have issued the mayor five orders, as required by law. The orders specifically instructed the Mayor to clean up the act within 30 days. He hasn't. According to Shonny Goldberger, head of the Jerusalem district of the Environment Ministry, ignoring an order of this sort could land the mayor in jail for up to one year or cost him a fine of NIS 150,000. Earlier this year, Lupolianski had to pay NIS 30,000 to the city council opposition after the district court found him guilty of improperly using municipal buildings for haredi schools. "Corridors of Power" hopes that this time he won't have to spare his family budget and choose prison. And the troubles keep on coming. Lupolianski has also had to deal with the annual comptroller's report regarding complaints registered by the public. The comptroller isn't pleased. According to her findings, more than one-third of the complaints were justified. Head of the Comptroller's Committee, Pepe Allalu (Meretz), says that this is nearly double the proportion of justified complaints filed in last year's report. "So what's happened to the municipality's slogans about "just give service'?" opposition councilman Nir Barkat (Jerusalem Will Succeed) asked cynically. Maybe they should look for a new copywriter? Finally, lest our readers suspect that this column is biased against the Mayor, we bring you a story from the offices of Municipal Director Eitan Meir. It is a tale which, we believe, will help to illustrate why so many citizens of Jerusalem feel that they are paying taxes to the municipality of Chelm. In a spurt of effort to save public monies, Meir decided, among other, similar decisions, to change the company responsible for provision of computer services to the municipality, thus ostensibly saving about NIS three million a year. A good idea. But not surprisingly, the people from the original company weren't happy about being sent home and losing their lucrative contract. In an attempt to reverse the decision, they went on strike and disrupted the municipality's computerized services, including even the email. They put up a good fight, which went on for nearly four months, with various ups and downs. They lost. The new company has been in since the beginning of the week. But, as we all know, he who laughs last... In the midst of the computer-turmoil, despite the on-going strikes and sanctions, Meir decided that the time was ripe to connect Jerusalem's 26 public libraries to the central system, so that subscribers would have access to the book lists from their personal computers. It's a Brave New Hi-Tech World, but the timing wasn't great. Not surprisingly, the employees of the old company made sure that the brave citizens of new-world Jerusalem were not going to enjoy this new service. They dismantled the entire system - not just the link from home, but the entire system. Now even if you come all the way from home to the library, you couldn't check out or return a book. The Baka library, for example, serves 1,600 subscribers, and they were furious. Even in Chelm, they probably noted, the general director might have waited for better timing. But that's Chelm. This is Jerusalem - a totally different place. As of earlier this week, since the new company has taken over, the entire computer system has been resurrected, the municipal email works, and the libraries are free to serve the public. Soon, the municipality promises, all 26 libraries will be connected to central system. But while we're discussing the Baka library - this might be a perfect opportunity for the new computer company to prove its prowess. The phone number listed on the municipal website for the Baka library has been wrong for months. Until now, they couldn't change it - because of the computers, of course.