Watchdog Comes Under Watch

State Comptroller's Office employee says her report on luxury Ashdod hotel was buried, as part of a personal quarrel with her superior.

Criticism of the Ashdod municipality for its role in building the southern coastal city's first luxury hotel is being buried - not by the city but by the State Comptroller's Office, according to the author of a government report on the hotel.

Michal Dachoach Halevi, a senior director in the local government review division of the comptroller's office, said in a complaint to the Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court that her superior wants to shelve the 2007 report as a way to keep Dachoach Halevi from getting recognition for it.

The report says the Ashdod municipality violated good government rules and raised concerns of favoritism by joining in with a private developer to build the NIS 100 million hotel, which is scheduled to open in the summer.

The conclusions could have broad implications for many local councils in Israel, which set rules for local authorities seeking to work with private companies in similar ventures, said Dachoach Halevi.

"Burying a review that has already been written and which presents harsh findings is a grave act of whitewashing the findings of a review, and a waste of the public resources expended on its production," Dachoach Halevi said in her labor court complaint.

She said her superior, Tamar Manes, asked her to add in sections of the report that were not entirely truthful, and that she refused to cooperate.

Dachoach Levi is also accusing employees of the State Comptrollers' Office of attempting to interfere with legal proceedings. This week she asked State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and Civil Service Commissioner Moshe Dayan to open an investigation of what she says is the disappearance of digital files of the Ashdod hotel report she had edited, along with supporting documents. She also sent Lador a draft of the report this week.

"There is a suspicion of the commission of serious disciplinary crimes on the part of employees of the State Comptroller's Office, which serves as major tool in the battle against public corruption and for preserving and ensuring the public's trust in government authorities," Dachoach Halevi said in a letter to Lador. She also submitted the transcript of a recorded conversation that she says supports the claim that her superiors have interfered with legal proceedings and concealed important documents that could help her in her suit.

Dachoach Halevi's lawyers, Gil Dachoach and Galit Rotenberg, said their client was forced to take the matter outside the comptroller's office.

"Our client was astonished to discover disturbing findings that give rise to a real suspicion both of interfering with procedures in a legal process and of concealing grave findings," they said in a statement. "All our client's attempts to find an explanation or a solution within the State Comptroller's Office failed. When she discovered not only that her complaint was not being dealt with but also that materials were being excised from the computers and the archive, she understood that the State Comptroller's Office is not the right place to examine her complaints."

The comptroller's office denies all of Dachoach Halevi's accusations.

"The State Comptroller's Office is aware of the bad relations between two employees, and all efforts have been made to prevent them from worsening," the agency said in a statement. "To our regret, Dachoach Halevi's application to the labor court has prevented attempts to solve the problem between the two employees in peaceful ways. From the very fact of Dachoach Halevi's application to courts of law, an external investigation of her claims is in effect underway by an objective and independent factor, i.e. the court."

From Gush Katif to Ashdod

The recriminations began as a quarrel between Dachoach Halevi and Manes.

Dachoach Halevi, who has been working at the State Comptroller's Office for about a decade and specializes in critiquing local government, asked senior officials at the office to remove from her personal record the notes Mannes had written about her, which she said were demeaning and false, and were keeping her from getting promoted. The office decided to move her to a different department, but not to remove Manes' comments.

Dachoach Halevi, whose previous reports have covered how the Gush Katif evacuees are faring and the preservation of historic buildings, went to the Tel Aviv labor court. Both parties agreed that the internal ombudsman at the State Comptroller's Office, Shmuel Rosenblum, would examine the documents and come to a decision.

However, after Rosenblum informed Dachoach Halevi that he intended only to "try to formulate a recommendation," she went back to the labor court and claimed that was a violation of the agreement with her.

Judge Dori Spivak dismissed the suit and said Dachoach Halevi had not acted in good faith by ignoring the compromise agreement. He also fined her for the expenses incurred by the State Comptroller's Office.

The comptroller's office cited Spivak's comment that she acted "in a tainted way" that "borders on exploitation of legal proceedings."

Professional integrity

The report was completed in September 2007.

According to Dachoach Halevi, Manes shelved it on the grounds it had been submitted late, but the real reason was to keep her from becoming successful. She also said Manes didn't send the report to other officials in the office, as is usually done.

"The state comptroller never knocks down a report that has findings," Dachoach Halevi told the labor court. "Even if it comes in late, the report continues to be moved forward."

But in this case, she said, Manes "simply buried it without anyone seeing and without reporting either to her own superiors or to her subordinates or to the body under review."

Manes has said Dachoach Halevi refuses to accept the professional authority of her superiors. But the writer of the Ashdod report says she will not be Manes' "yes woman" or compromise her "professional integrity" by approving the inaccurate changes she says Manes wanted to incorporate.