Ex-Arad Mayor: Interior Min. Decision to Depose Me 'Conflict of Interest'

Former mayor of Negev town Motti Brill's accusations come as Sheetrit appoints his arch-rival to replace him.

For the past three months, former Arad mayor Motti Brill believed the interior minister's unexplained decision to depose him in August was hasty and premature. But after Minister Meir Sheetrit last week appointed Brill's arch-rival to replace him as mayor, Brill has become more suspicious. Now he accuses the ministry of lending itself to a conflict of interests.

"I asked the minister why he was deposing me," Brill says. "I told him he was acting undemocratically. But he just said he couldn't elaborate and wished me a good day." Brill argues that Gideon Bar-Lev's appointment as acting mayor on the ministry's behalf is no coincidence.

Bar-Lev, who used to be the Interior Minister's director general, had been engaged in a legal and political struggle with Brill until Brill was removed from office. According to Brill, Bar-Lev halted the funds needed by Arad's municipality to carry out an amelioration program.

Before his appointment to head Arad, Bar-Lev served as the head of the neighboring and much richer Tamar Regional Council. Arad, with a population of 27,000 and less than NIS 25 million in annual revenues, was barely able to pay the salaries of its municipal workers. The 1,300 members of Tamar, meanwhile, were raking in over NIS 60 million per annum in property tax payments from hotels and industrial complexes.

Brill argued that the division of resources was unjust and discriminatory, as Tamar basically isolated Arad from the riches and prime real-estate around the Dead Sea. After his election as mayor in 2003, Brill petitioned the High Court of Justice to order Tamar Regional Council to share its profits with its poorer neighbors at Arad.

"When I stepped into office, I received a city in a state of bankruptcy," Brill says. "Our budgetary amelioration plan indicated that Arad was unable to balance its budget without external support. Then-interior minister Avraham Poraz recognized this and ordered Tamar to transfer NIS 10 million per year to our budget for two years."

Bar-Lev served as the Interior Ministry's director general during Poraz's term. Previously, Bar-Lev had been a partner in the accountant firm handling Tamar's affairs. Brill says Bar-Lev opposed Poraz's plan to transfer funds from Tamar to Arad. Eventually, Bar-Lev persuaded Poraz to transfer only NIS 3 million.

This prompted Brill to petition the High Court to force Tamar to produce the funds the Interior Ministry had ordered it to pay. Brill's petition noted Bar-Lev's former position as Tamar's accountant, accusing the ministry of a conflict of interests. But the court decided not to rule on the matter after the Interior Ministry announced it would form a special committee to review municipal tax property divisions. Eventually, the ministry gave Arad the contested NIS 14 million.

Brill believes that given past history between Arad and Tamar, Bar-Lev's appointment is improper. He also argues that the manner in which he was deposed is illegal, as he was never granted a hearing and did not receive any kind of explanation for the move.

But the ministry argues that both Bar-Lev's appointment and the decision to depose Brill were implemented "according to protocol and without a conflict of interests."