Learn from Akune; promote reform early
The self-righteous and high-handed administrative style of the former mayor of Akune, Kagoshima Prefecture, has been rejected once again.
In Sunday's mayoral election--held after former Mayor Shinichi Takehara was recalled in a referendum--Yoshimasa Nishihira, the leader of a civic group opposing Takehara, defeated the ousted mayor.
Takehara came into conflict with the city assembly over a series of decisions he made without consulting the body when it was not in session. He sparked controversy by halving bonuses for municipal staff and introducing a system to pay assembly members on a per diem basis.
During the campaign, the former mayor criticized the lavish benefits enjoyed by city officials, claiming that more than half of them receive 7 million yen per year.
Nishihira, on the other hand, called for promoting dialogue instead of confrontation.
He said that reading a blog posting by Takehara that seemed to deny that handicapped children should have the right to be born drove him to lead the recall campaign. Nishihira's own son is disabled.
The former mayor might have had the right goal of pushing for administrative reform, but the unusual methods he employed must not be tolerated--which also seems to be the conclusion reached by the citizens of Akune by using common sense.
Nevertheless, Sunday's election turned out to be a close race, reflecting local residents' deep-rooted frustration with the city assembly and other local officials.
Respect spirit of reform
We urge Nishihira to respect the number of votes the former mayor received and to fulfill his election pledges, such as cutting city officials' salaries by 15 percent and investigating a possible cut in the number of assembly members.
The assembly also must actively cooperate with these efforts.
Another referendum will be held in the city on Feb. 20 on whether the assembly should be dissolved, based on a request from a local group that supports Takehara. However, Nishihira's election should gradually resolve the long-standing tension between the mayor and the assembly.
If both parties continue unproductive confrontations and leave undone the administrative work of the city, such as promoting industrial development, local residents will not benefit at all.
Confusion in the city has exposed a number of issues that need to be resolved by local governments.
Administrative reform and disparities between the public and private sectors are problems shared by worn-out local governments around the country.
Learning from Akune, local governments must reexamine whether the number and salary of assembly members and government officials are appropriate.
Be a solution, not a problem
Local assemblies are expected to play a key role in resolving these problems.
In Nagoya, a referendum on dissolving the city assembly has also been announced. People are taking an increasingly critical look at local assemblies, and the legislative bodies are expected to play a more active role in monitoring and checking the local administrations.
Takehara's outrageous behavior also exposed legal loopholes that allowed him to take such actions.
The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry plans to submit a bill to revise the Local Government Law in the next ordinary Diet session.
The planned revisions would make it impossible for local government heads to appoint deputy governors and mayors without consulting their assemblies. Local government heads would also be required to make corrections if assemblies do not approve administrative decisions made without consulting them.
We find these revisions quite reasonable, and hope the Diet will pass the bill into law as soon as possible.
The current system also allows a head of a local government who has lost his or her job in a referendum to run for the post again in the recall election, a system we find problematic.
If Takehara had been elected in Sunday's election, administrative confusion in the city could have continued.
The government should regulate who can run in elections following the recall of a local government head.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 18, 2011)