Neuchâtel in crisis one month before the elections

It is an earthquake on the scale of the city of Neuchâtel. Only one month before the elections of October 25, the green municipal councilor (executive) Christine Gaillard, candidate for re-election, saw the management of the Buildings Department withdrawn by her colleagues from the executive. The decision, as rare as it was strong, was taken Tuesday evening following the damning report of the sub-committee of the Financial Commission of the General Council and the analysis of the Municipal Council that the service was the subject of “persistent dysfunctions “.

This report, which is still confidential, but which the regional radio station RTN was able to consult, describes a situation deemed “catastrophic”: poor communication, lack of decisions and procrastination. It is accused of serious breaches to Christine Gaillard. Contacted, the president of the Financial Commission, the socialist Jonathan Gretillat, does not want to comment on the content of a report that will be submitted to the General Council on September 30. He nevertheless defends the approach: “Following numerous dysfunctions and several complaints, we took our responsibilities and created this sub-committee, which functions as a committee of inquiry and composed of one member per political group.”

A cursed dicastery

In a period of electoral turmoil, the media coverage of this report promised to provoke a political crisis, which convinced the Municipal Council to take this radical measure upstream. A decision that must be placed in the context of a municipal building service that has been problematic for several years, between a deleterious atmosphere and accusations of mobbing, which will lead in particular to the suspension of the department head. When Christine Gaillard took over the dicastery on January 1, 2018, it was already a minefield. It is even said cursed, having been led in turn by the socialists Valérie Garbani and Olivier Arni, both forced to resign as a result of cases. The environmental magistrate will get lost, unable to solve the problems. This is what he is criticized for today.

“All attempts to resolve the crisis have failed. Transferring the service was the last measure that we had not tried “, justifies today the president of the Town council, Thomas Facchinetti, who recognizes that” clear disagreements “on the management of the service between the college and Christine Gaillard led to this decision. “Following an audit, recommendations were made,” continues the elected Socialist. Some measures were taken, others not or late. ” At the start of 2020, it was decided that the environmental councilor will be supported in her efforts by two colleagues, the PLR ​​Violaine Blétry-de Montmollin and Fabio Bongiovanni. The media then speak of a “trusteeship”.

Third French-speaking commune

“This summer, organizational problems were still present,” continues Thomas Facchinetti. The first elements of the subcommittee’s report confirmed our analyzes. We had to act. ” Impossible for him to wait another four months and the expected reorganization of the administration generated by the upcoming merger of the four municipalities of Corcelles-Cormondrèche, Neuchâtel, Peseux and Valangin, which will form next year the third municipality in French-speaking Switzerland with 45 000 inhabitants.

When questioned, Christine Gaillard said she understood: “With the media pressure and the tensions of the electoral campaign, this decision to transfer the service makes it possible to answer the questions of the Financial Commission and to calm the situation in the service.” She regrets, however, that her openness “did not lead to a more constructive attitude”, while she played “cards on the table, in complete transparency, during the investigation of the sub-committee”.

“I could have done better”

“In 2018, I took over this Buildings Department, which had already posed a problem for my two predecessors, still defends the environmental magistrate. After a phase of observation and framing, I had to propose a strong measure to the Municipal Council, the suspension of the head of service. The length of the various procedures was a problem; in this context, I could perhaps have done better. ”

Still, the timing is explosive and promises to electrify the campaign. The brilliant victory of the Greens in the 2019 federal elections, and in particular the accession of Céline Vara to the Council of States to the detriment of the Socialists, has complicated relations between the traditional allies. Tension reinforced by the uncertainties linked to Covid-19 and the repercussions of the merged municipality. The ecologists approach the municipal elections with great ambition, a second seat in the city of Neuchâtel, launching alongside Christine Gaillard two well-known personalities: Nicole Baur, the lady equality of the canton, and the winemaker Nicolas de Pury.

“Who’s afraid of the Greens?”

The party is united behind its outgoing. “We have complete confidence in Christine Gaillard,” pleads Jacqueline Oggier, president of the Greens of the municipality of Neuchâtel. She could not solve everything, of course, but she took over a service which was already experiencing serious dysfunctions. ” She also wonders about the virulence of a report that has not yet been finalized and the way in which it is used. “I ask myself a question, concludes Jacqueline Oggier: who is also afraid of the Greens today?”

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