An open letter to Mayor Nir Barkat

Instead of handing out these urgent notices, task the diligent worker with the installation of sorely lacking public signs.

Ramot (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Dear Mr. Barkat: On behalf of the residents of Ramot, I would like to thank you for meeting with us the other day. The open meeting gave us some insight into why there are utterly inadequate public services and lack of safety, convenience and recreational facilities in our neighborhood.
In the Q&A session, you heard a barrage of queries and requests from an agitated constituency, which for 25 years (including nine under your leadership) has suffered from a dire dearth of service. We surely did not expect you to relate to the small details of each parking spot, pirate yeshiva and public park. However, you did come to Ramot to discuss the problems facing our suburb, and you heard about the physical conditions within which we live. Hence, our dismay at your reply which consisted of a tired copy-paste macro-Jerusalem shpiel about lack of funding and grandiose long-term strategies. Your response to this authentic outpouring of local frustration and desperation was insulting to our intelligence, to say the least.
Mr. Barkat, you have it all wrong.
Yes, it would be nice for the city to have underground garbage disposal facilities in 10 years’ time at a cost of billions of shekels which, if ever installed, would be poorly maintained and managed. But your long-suffering Ramot residents would settle for the “frogs” if only we could get just a few diligent workers to clean our public areas, now.
As for budgets, I do not doubt that there are funding issues. But the real problem is not the lack of resources. It is the lack of resourcefulness. On the macro level of which you speak, you head an organization that employs thousands of people. Over the past 30-odd years, I have encountered efficient, courteous officials who understand that they operate in the service sector and are committed to excellence.
However, they are smothered by a bloated cadre of individuals who make it difficult to live in Jerusalem. My contact with the staff at city hall, relating to living, working and volunteering in our city, is so often characterized by incompetence, laziness, lack of knowledge, lack of basic decency, lunch/tea/coffee/ chat/web surfing breaks and a holierthan- thou attitude. It is clear that many employees have no concept of their job description.
Many of the phone numbers that appear on official documents have no one answering them. The calls that are answered generally lead to a maze of transferred responsibility, which even those with the greatest forbearance would find difficult to endure.
Letters of complaint often disappear into the bowels of the municipality, never to be dealt with. The one activity that is always facilitated promptly and efficiently is the payment of arnona and other levies and charges.
The basic problem has little to do with budgets. It has mostly to do with leadership. It has to do with the fact that most of your employees have no pride in their city or for their work.
Add just 20% to the productivity of the personnel who roam the halls of Safra Square, and you would change the way Jerusalem looks and operates.
Here is a microcosm of what is, in the experience of everyone I speak to, endemic within the municipality.
How ironic and offensive it is that a few years ago, the Department for Business Licensing changed its name to the Department for the Advancement of Businesses. I have worked with this sector for decades, and it seems to me that many of the clerks are intent on making it as difficult as possible for businesses to operate in the city. The last thing they have in mind is advancement.
As for Ramot residents, all of us have a story. Allow me to describe three recent encounters with municipality officials that typify city hall’s attitude towards its clients.
• A few months ago, we were presented with an urgent warning informing us that the little numbers on our buildings did not exactly match the city’s standard for home addresses and that we would face severe penalties if we did not conform to the specification within days.
While I appreciate the deep concern for the city’s fine aesthetic appearance, here is my practical advice: Instead of handing out these urgent notices, task the diligent worker with the installation of sorely lacking public signs and the maintenance of the decrepit existing signage. How many hours and how much aggravation would that activity save the visitors roaming our suburb in search of their hosts? And perhaps if he has a bit of spare time, get him to paint the faded street crossings (all over the city) that pose an immediate danger of death to pedestrians.
• Last week, another urgent notice informed us that a few small tree branches had marginally crossed the public line, presenting a serious fire hazard. Once again, the imminent threat of penalties hung over our heads, and I promptly removed the offending impediment. My advice: Task the same employee with clearing the huge public thorn fields surrounding our homes, neglected for decades, which pose a massive fire hazard, clean them up and plant a few trees and some flowers.
• A couple of weeks ago, I noticed workers removing the few, pathetically inadequate pieces of playground equipment that graced the large, undeveloped area at the corner of Zarhi Street, zoned for public use. The plot has now been commandeered by a fleet of buses from private transportation companies for use as a parking terminus. Perhaps the same Department of Supervision, which is so concerned with the size of our home addresses and the 30 cm. of overhanging branches, could act to return this pirated space back to the public domain.
These examples represent a drop in the ocean of our interface with your municipality. Personally, the most galling of all your pronouncements at the meeting was the statement that the city needs 1,000 street cleaning personnel, that previously there were only 300 employees and that you had managed to raise that number to 400.
Well, Mr. Barkat, by the look of it not one of them has been sent to Ramot.
In addition, of your annual budget of NIS 6 billion, how about taking a tiny fraction from “extras,” “sundries” and other dubious line items that add up to hundreds of millions of shekels and add more street cleaners, gardeners and other service personnel.
In Ramot, we pay exactly the same arnona rate as residents of Rehavia, Talbiyeh, Baka, the German Colony and other neighborhoods which, by their public appearance, seem to be suffering less from the lack of funding that you describe. Would you consider spreading the NIS 6 billion evenly among your city’s tax-paying residents?