Hashimoto hunt for ward bosses finds 60 takers

by

Staff Writer

Around 60 people, including many from the corporate world, had applied for 24 Osaka city ward chief positions as of Tuesday, one day before the deadline.

As a major part of his efforts to revitalize the city, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto is advertising nationwide for people who share his goal of merging the city and prefecture into a single entity.

He plans to give the new ward heads far more authority over budget and personnel decisions than they now have. The chiefs will be subject to a performance review and those who don’t meet expectations will be let go.

“If we get good people, the ward chiefs will serve as de facto mayors. The system to date has been one of the ward chiefs coming to City Hall and asking for permission. The new system allows residents to make their own decisions,” Hashimoto said last week.

The city is seeking candidates with central and local government organizational management experience, as well as private enterprise. Payment is ¥14 million annually for those who are not city bureaucrats, and ¥12 million for those who are. Traditionally, ward heads have come from the city bureaucracy.

But it is not a lifetime job. By 2016, Hashimoto hopes Osaka will be reorganized from the current 24 wards into eight or nine — the next step toward the eventual goal of one political entity for the entire prefecture.

Ex-Yokohama Mayor Hiroshi Nakata, serving as a special adviser to Hashimoto, told reporters after a meeting with the mayor last week that three proposals for reorganizing the 24 wards will be drawn up by March 2013, and they will be put forward for public debate in 2013 or 2014.

“Each of the current wards has its own economic and cultural characteristics. But with the cooperation of the ward chiefs, we can find a realistic way to consolidate them,” Nakata said.

By giving the 24 new ward heads more autonomy, Hashimoto hopes to persuade Osaka residents that eight or nine wards in the future will strengthen the local economy and revitalize communities without detracting from their local culture.

Applicants for the positions include local Democratic Party of Japan members who lost their seats to Hashimoto’s Osaka Ishin no kai (One Osaka) group in last April’s municipal election as well as current City Hall bureaucrats whose position on Hashimoto’s plan is unclear, raising the possibility of a small anti-Hashimoto faction among the ward chiefs.