Citizens of the city of Akune, Kagoshima Prefecture, have started collecting signatures in an effort to initiate a referendum to recall Mayor Shinichi Takehara, who repeatedly made unilateral decisions on matters that in principal require approval of the assembly. His decisions include those on a budget and the selection of a vice mayor.

The Local Autonomy Law allows a local government head to make decisions on his or her initiative without calling an assembly session if there is not enough time to let the assembly approve a proposal. The Akune mayor is taking advantage of this provision.

Mr. Takehara, a former Akune assembly member, was elected mayor in August 2008. After the election, in his blog, he asked residents to name assembly members they want to remove. The assembly passed a no-confidence motion against him. In February 2009, he dissolved the assembly. The newly elected assembly passed a no-confidence motion again. In a May 2009 election, Mr. Takehara was narrowly re-elected.

Without calling an assembly session, in June he replaced monthly salaries for assembly members with a ¥10,000 per day allowance and halved the bonus for city workers. In July, he decided on a ¥93 million supplementary budget and in August, selected a vice mayor.

If citizens collect valid signatures from one-third or more of the city’s some 20,000 voters within a month, a referendum will be held. A majority vote is enough to oust Mr. Takehara. If he loses his job, a new mayoral election will be held.

Mr. Takehara charges that the assembly does not do really needed discussions and that important decisions are made by members of a majority group behind closed doors. Some citizens support the mayor, who makes unilateral decisions under the slogan of turning the city government into one that shares the pain and hardship with citizens.

It is clear that the mayor is violating the spirit of the law. He should present his ideas before the assembly and let citizens judge the merits and demerits of his proposals. He should realize that he is undermining the institution of local autonomy.

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