Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar will stand trial later this year on charges of accepting bribes and of fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and obstruction of justice. The bribes that real estate developers allegedly gave him in exchange for advancing their interests - according to the indictment, which was based in part on evidence supplied by one of these developers, who turned state's witness - amounted to NIS 1.7 million.
Bar refuses to resign. A petition filed in the High Court of Justice demanding Bar's dismissal will only be heard in three and a half months from now.
Neither law nor precedent requires local authority heads to resign in the event of an indictment. In this respect their status is comparable with that of Knesset members, whereas a cabinet minister who is indicted must resign. Mayors exploit this loophole, remaining in their posts and continuing to affect the lives of their city's residents and employees, including ones who may have complained or even testified against them.
Council heads who have been charged with crimes argue that a resignation would be understood as a confession and that they would be unable to resume their duties in the event they are acquitted or convicted of minor offenses only. Some actually use this situation as a bargaining chip, and try to get the charges dropped or reduced in exchange for agreeing to resign. Whatever the reasons for this situation, the result is intolerable.
Prosecutors don't accuse mayors of corruption at the drop of a hat. Complaints from personal or political rivals are carefully checked to separate the information from the motive. Even when a decision is made to indict, the suspect is given an opportunity to explain their behavior, in the form of a hearing. Even if charged, the presumption of innocence stands. But the citizens under the mayor's jurisdiction have the right to full municipal services, untainted by any suspicion.
Bar was a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces and a major general in the Israel Police as head of the Border Police and of the police Operations Branch. One assumes he's quite familiar with the laws and regulations. His entanglements have already forced him to resign from both the local and the regional building and planning committees.
The next local elections are in about eight months. Perhaps Bar wants to run again and extend his reign to nearly 30 years. But former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak established in his Deri-Pinhasi ruling, some 20 years ago, that cabinet ministers must resign if and when they are charged. We need a new Barak who will create a similar precedent for local government.
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