In a few days, the dust will settle and the city streets will be cleaned of posters showing smiling candidates and absurd slogans. When the congratulations die down, and the flowers have withered, maybe the new elected officials will take up their new (plush) offices with the gravity it deserves.
Their task is a major one - to successfully manage what has been placed in their remit. Not many managers in the economy win five-year contracts on set pay, with perks as well. And some of the winners have little idea what responsibility it is. A local authority is a complex organization of thousands of workers and businesses, which is supposed to act within strict budget limitations and within defined administrative regulations.
Local authorities command vast budgets. The annual spending of the Tel Aviv municipality is some NIS 3 billion, while small Sderot makes do with NIS 125 million, but supervising expenditures is no simple task. The elected officials will have power to appoint myriads of jobs in the authority itself, its committees and local bodies. Sitting on planning councils will leave some open to manipulation by interested parties.
Despite this, there is little doubt that there is no other field in which management standards are as shoddy as in local government. Many of those elected are professional politicians, or retired from the public sector, such as the army or the Education Ministry, which will use their power to get their colleagues into prime positions, or to help out totterring businesses.
Even when a local council head is deemed successful, he has only become adept at capitalizing on his contacts with government ministers, particularly from the Interior Ministry or the treasury in order to get his budget improved.
Almost 90,000 people work in 265 local authorities. In a ministry report released just a week ago, despite a grant of NIS 3.7 billion to these authorities in 2002, their collective deficits grew by NIS 550 million. In addition, fewer authorities finished the year with balanced books, and most of them spent more than was approved. The latest state comptroller's report revealed even worse, which until now had not been known in depth: the enormous salaries of the senior workers in the councils, the weary bureaucracy, the waste, the atrophy and corruption, and the futile attempts by energetic leaders to bring reforms to local councils. And don't look to the political parties for answers. They, together with MKs and party central committees are some of the few that benefit from the bloated mechanism and inefficiencies of local government. The government's failure in merging local authorities was not coincidental.
The treasury managed to pass an unprecedented reform in pensions that affected hundreds of thousands, but did not succeed in cutting one single superfluous job in local government.
Yesterday, Supersol announced that, faced with no choice, it was closing 18 stores and dismissing 480 staffers. Could any of the newly-elected authority heads act like the new managers of the country's largest retail chain? Apparently not. We can only hope that they will implement just a smidgen of the principles that guide the best managers in the private sector.
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