The State comptroller's report on the local authorities released on Tuesday reveals waste of taxpayer funds, corruption and illegal allocation of land. Violations of the basic rules of proper public management and a clear connection between money and power were among the findings of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss and his staff, who examined the functioning of the local authorities and the offices of those heading the municipalities.
Lindenstrauss reports on problematic behavior by a number of mayors and other senior officials. For example, some NIS 60,000 of public funds was paid to glorify the mayor of the ultra-Orthodox city of Elad, Rabbi Yitzhak Idan. The city of Netanya spent over NIS 17,000 to hire a consultant to write four speeches to be given by mayor Miriam Feierberg. Gedera spent some NIS 10,000 on a sound system, DVD player and mobile phone for the car of local council head Yoel Gamliel, and five public properties in Petah Tikva were handed over to private organizations based solely on decisions made by mayor Yitzhak Ohayon or his deputy. In the city of Beit Shemesh, deputy mayor Meir Balish appointed relatives to jobs and interfered in decisions of the personnel department.
The city of Elad is mentioned time after time throughout the entire report. The ultra-Orthodox city twice paid for advertisements in Haredi newspapers, Hamevaser and Hamodia, in return for an interview with the mayor. The interviews heaped praise on the mayor, calling him "humble," "an educational figure," "one of the pioners of Haredi construction in Israel," and more.
In Netanya, Feierberg took a month to supply the comptroller with some of the material he requested, such as her schedule. In the end, after a further delay and negotiations with the staff of the Comptroller's office, it turned out that important information from her meetings schedule had been removed and other information added. Some of the details and clarifications added turned out to be inaccurate. After a process of clarification with Feierberg, she apologized and said the mistakes were made innocently.
In response, Lindenstrauss said that many of the meetings with contractors and developers were held without preparing legal opinions in advance or keeping protocols of the meetings, nor were the decisions made recorded. Some of the meetings were held in private, usually in restaurants or coffee shops. In response, Feierberg claimed that such meetings were often private meetings with old friends. Lindenstrauss said that even if they were old friends who turned into developers and contractors, it was appropriate to keep minutes of the meetings and decisions made.
Similar charges also related to meetings held in Elad by the mayor and other officials. "The approach that every meeting requires documentation and keeping minutes is excessive and is not appropriate to the flexible reality in practice," said the Elad municipality.
Illegal land allocation
In Petah Tikva, the comptroller found the city had acted illegally and improperly in allocating land without any payment in return; and criticized city hall and the mayor for intervening in transfering city property to private nonprofit organizations based on solely on their own considerations. In 2010-2011 over 200 properties were parcelled out to various organizations without following the procedures laid out by the Interior Ministry , which details the procedures required. A large number of these properties were given to the Maayan Hahinuch Hatorani organization, the educational arm of the Shas party.
Another complaint against the mayors of Netanya and Elad was that they received reimbursement for their expenses for hosting meetings. Mayors must choose whether to be reimbursed based on the actual costs of hosting such meetings and present receipts - or they can be given a fixed monthly payment of NIS 1,330, in addition to the city paying for certain official visits of government officials such as ministers or ministry director generals. But in Elad and Netanya, the mayors took the monthly sum - and also submitted receipts for reimbursement. In addition, Lindenstrauss said that the sums involved in Elad were excessive and wasteful.
In Hadera, the comptroller found that the Interior Ministry had provided the city with grants and loans even though the city did not meet the targets of its recovery plan, formulated after the city ran up large debts. The ministry approved NIS 81.6 million in such funds from 2007 through 2009. The city had cumulative deficits of NIS 167 million at the end of 2006 - and the ministry was not supposed to transfer funds until the problems of excessive wages paid by the city and overstaffing were solved. Nonetheless, the ministry provided the funds.
Hadera also employed six people in the positions of aides to the mayor and deputy, despite approval for only two such jobs. The cost of the extra four employees was estimated at NIS 1 million per year. The mayor was also criticized for interfering in appointments of city officials.
Cities pay mayors' parking tickets
A number of cities were also criticized for paying traffic and parking tickets for the mayors and their drivers. In addition, they paid the fines late and racked up huge interest charges and further fines.
In Netivot, officals were singled out for having possible conflicts of interest, for example in the case of the city comptroller whose wife was elected to the city council, and she was also appointed the chairwoman of the local community center. Despite a requirement that one of them leave their posts, this took six years to enforce - and only after Lindenstrauss intervened.
The Petah Tikva municipality said it had yet to receive the comptroller's report, and once it receives it it would study its conclusions.
The city of Hadera said: "Most of the comments included in the report have already been corrected during the preparation of the report... Most of the report relates to earlier periods and previous terms." But the city will continue to study the report and will correct all the faults, it said.
In Netanya, the mayor's office said: "Most of the comptroller's comments are technical and deal with matters of bureaucracy and are not based on any regulations." The city is proud that is is managed legally, fairly, professionally and successfully, said city hall.
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