Two years already?

Nir Barkat has brought a business-like atmosphere to city hall, cultural events to the streets – but he hasn’t cleaned up the city or built parking lots.

Nir Barkat 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Nir Barkat 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Anniversaries usually elicit one of two reactions. It’s either “Already such-and-such years” or “Only such-and-such years” have passed since some important event occurred. But when people were asked how much time had elapsed since the municipal elections that brought Nir Barkat to the helm of this city, this journalist received both reactions: “already” and “only” two years have passed.
So on this momentous occasion, let us make an assessment of what – if anything – has changed within these two years.
The first thing that catches the eye is the large number of young people who make up the mayor’s entourage. That is not to say that the staff of the former mayors was over the hill, but still, apart from chief of staff Michal Shalem, one can hardly find anyone under 30 on the sixth floor of Kikar Safra.
The second observation is that there are many young women among these new faces. As a result, the atmosphere surrounding the mayor is certainly dynamic, sometimes almost reminiscent of a college campus. But make no mistake: Behind the casual, young and smiling faces lies a focused, sharp and very firm – some would even say too firm – handling of the issues.
This leads us to the new management style that Mayor Barkat has brought from his hi-tech background and experience. The city council, the committees, the weekly meetings of the high-ranking staff – they all work in an atmosphere of efficiency, diametrically opposed to the kind of marketplace manner that prevailed until two years ago.
“The feeling is that we are required to work according to a tight schedule and that a few pairs of eyes scrutinize us to make sure that not a minute is wasted,” said a high-ranking official earlier this week. “The agenda is filled with projects, and the message is that failure to keep up with this agenda is unacceptable. Even the language we have all finally acquired is taken from the hi-tech world – words like ‘assignments,’ ‘projects,’ ‘goals,’ ‘objectives.’ Some of us found it hard to adapt at first, but now it’s becoming more natural.”
A second look at the human resources of the municipality administration reveals that Barkat is on the verge of completing a kind of mini-takeover. Many positions that had not been filled for years are now occupied, a few new functions have been created, and all these lead to a tight centralization and monitoring of the entire organization from the mayor’s office.
“The feeling most of us have,” continued the official, who has been on the inside since Ehud Olmert’s days, “is that at any given time Barkat, through one of his numerous assistants, knows exactly where we stand and what we’re working on. There is no question about the efficiency of this method. There is no question, either, that not all of us feel comfortable about it.”
However, this journalist also heard some very different attitudes regarding this issue. For example, “I went to university before I attained my position, and I feel that my knowledge is being put to good use, that I am doing things and not just hanging around waiting for the politicians up there to come up with some compromise,” said another staff member.
That being said, the real test will be the actual results. So far, there have been quite a few successes.
The coalition is still firm, despite Meretz’s departure; funding is coming in from the government; the number of cultural events has almost succeeded in exhausting the younger generation; the local community councils are finally going to the polls (in some cases, for the first time in 20 years); the Education Department is undergoing a small but important revolution (cancellation of registration zones); the roadwork on Jaffa Road is almost finished; an OECD conference agreed to be hosted in our politically sensitive city; and Mahaneh Yehuda has become one of the most “in” places in the city – even residents of Tel Aviv come to see the marvel.
However, besides these and several other achievements, the city is still dirty. Residents who were late paying their property tax were shocked to discover that the municipality had placed a lien on their bank accounts. Many architectural jewels are still being demolished for the benefit of real estate tycoons, despite all attempts to preserve them. And the policy of this administration toward parking issues is less than friendly, let alone acceptable. Considering that parking fines are included in the basis of the annual budget, the fact that there are still not enough parking lots gives many residents the feeling that someone is after them.
On top of all this, there is Silwan. Even those who think that the King’s Garden project is not such a bad idea still have reservations about this mayor’s hot pursuit of political issues rather than some of the burning issues that need attention in the western part of the city.
This week, the municipality announced the departure of CEO Yair Ma’ayan, to be replaced by Yossi Heimann, a former military man with an impressive resumé. How far this move points to some additional changes at Kikar Safra is still too early to tell.