Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Managing Palma, Managing People

Should questions be being asked about the management of the Mallorcan and Balearic capital? While Palma can rightly bask in the warm glow of its increasing reputation as a tourist destination and while there are some - non-politicians - who can rightly be praised for this, there are matters which place a question mark over what is going on at the town hall.

Firstly, some mitigation. Being a mayor or a leading councillor in a Mallorcan town hall administration is far from being a piece of cake. The demands are great and the pitfalls even greater. The liability that a mayor in particular has can land even the most assiduous of public officials in deep water: not by any deviousness or abuse of office, but because of the way that liability can suddenly appear from nowhere.

One can think of examples over the years. In Capdepera, the one-time mayor, Tomeu Alzina, was disqualified from public office for eight years following the 2008 accident at the old Son Moll hotel in Cala Ratjada in which four workers lost their lives. He was found guilty by a criminal court of negligence in not having stopped work at the hotel when the licence for building permission had yet to be issued. By the letter of the law he was guilty, but as became evident at the time of the accident, the practice of allowing work to proceed while waiting for licences to be settled was commonplace. It was happening in other municipalities because of the sheer length of bureaucratic delays associated with the granting of licences. 

A mayor faces all manner of complexities, as do his or her advisors and fellow councillors. The need for there to be a dotting of i's and the crossing of t's has unquestionably been playing a part in the never-ending saga of Palma's Palacio de Congresos. But these complexities are separate from the political process and from day-to-day management, not least the management of human relations.

To have one senior official resign after only a few months may be regarded as a misfortune, to have another one wish to resign also after only a few months might look like carelessness. The ex-director of the Palacio company walked out and later left it in no doubt that he had done so because he had felt pressurised in arriving at a solution for the Palacio's operation and management that he, in his professional capacity, could not agree with. This has been just one of the reasons he has given.

The chief of the local police, brought in when his predecessor was dismissed, wants to resign. There are undoubted tensions between him and the councillor for public safety, Angelica Pastor. He has gone on record as saying that he has felt that he has been treated like a half-wit.

The relationship with the police in Palma is certainly a delicate one. The corruption allegations made against members of the force were bound to create difficulties for an incoming administration. But for its appointee to express the things he has needs to be treated with some seriousness: the relationship with the local police is absolutely crucial.

That there may be some distance in the relationship is perhaps understandable. Pastor's predecessor (from the Partido Popular) has been implicated in the ongoing investigations. But the impression formed is one of an antagonistic relationship and one that is not being terribly well handled. From what Josep Sintes, the ex-director of the Palacio company has had to say, a similar tension seemed to be at play where he was concerned.

In the case of the Palacio, executive responsibility at the town hall falls to the councillor for tourism (and work and trade), Joana María Adrover. When appointments were made following the municipal election last May, there was some surprise expressed at the fact that tourism was no longer the responsibility for a deputy mayor. Under Mateo Isern, his number two, Alvaro Gijón, had been the tourism councillor as well as the president of the Palacio company (which Adrover now is). Though Isern and Gijón were to have their falling-out, for most of the administration Gijón was a trusted number two in charge of tourism: he is now the chief spokesperson on tourism for the PP in the Balearic parliament.

Adrover has stoutly defended herself against accusations made by Sintes. It's one side against another, but when one puts the two cases - the Palacio and the police - together, one does have to start asking questions about the management of relationships and perhaps also about political motives dominating. The coincidence is too great to not ask the questions.

And presiding over all this is José Hila, about whom there have been mutterings regarding his effectiveness. Some of his constantly expressed consensus might come in useful. Managing a city is more than just avoiding liability.

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