Attorney General's Remarks on Veteran Mayors Raise Hackles

For 39 years, Yitzhak Yemini has been mayor of Pardesiya. He has won every election in a landslide. "It's the people's will," he says, and can't understand why Attorney General Menachem Mazuz considers it improper.

"A mayor in his first term can also do illicit things," he said. "The fact that I've been mayor for almost 40 years is an advantage. I know the material, I can continue advancing projects, I don't need to start from scratch every time."

The comment that sparked Yemini's wrath was made by Mazuz at a seminar on law and governance at the Knesset. Discussing the many criminal probes now in progress against different mayors, Mazuz said that for a mayor to serve several consecutive terms was improper.

"The local authorities include extremes of stability and instability," he said. "There are towns with exaggerated stability, where mayors serve for dozens of years, and this is an unacceptable phenomenon in my view, albeit not from a legal standpoint. It turns out that such stability is achieved by concentrating unprecedented power, with virtually no supervisory mechanisms, and the result is what the police commissioner said a few days ago: Currently, criminal investigations are being conducted against dozens upon dozens of mayors. There have been more than a few convictions of mayors, and we must find a balance between governability and effective supervision."

Yemini countered that mayors are subject to numerous levels of supervision - the municipal comptroller, the state comptroller, the municipal legal adviser and the city council. "There are Knesset members who have been in the Knesset for long periods, several terms - and no one says that's improper," he added.

The Union of Local Authorities was also outraged. "If every governmental body in Israel had the same level of activity and governmental stability as local government, the State of Israel would look, and be run, much better," it said. "Unlike any other elected official, mayors are directly elected, once every five years. This is the peak, the true realization, of democracy - and it's inappropriate to quarrel with the voters' decision."

The fact that some mayors are under investigation, the ULA added, "does not legitimize smearing all mayors" - especially as many of these probes end up being closed without charges, or in acquittals.

Shmuel Rifman, who heads the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, said that "as a mayor for 19 years, I can only regret this miserable, unnecessary statement by Mr. Mazuz. I and many of my mayoral colleagues are proof of the fact that stable, long-term local government is the key to success and to real progress for a town and its residents."

Comparing errant mayors to "wild weeds," he added, "It's sad that Mr. Mazuz chooses to focus on these wild weeds and completely ignore the contribution of many veteran mayors who have worked for years out of a true sense of mission, for one single goal: to improve the town they lead, for the benefit of its residents."

Holon Mayor Moti Sasson, who has been in office for 16 years, said he found it "unacceptable for the attorney general to sweepingly accuse all mayors. And I wouldn't advise him to interfere in a democratic decision ... He cannot be the censor, or the patron, of a public that democratically chooses who it wants to lead their city."