Kohtla-Järve city council rejects new city government lineup

The Kohtla-Järve council sitting on January 30, 2023, which rejected the entry into office of the Virve Linder-headed city government.
The Kohtla-Järve council sitting on January 30, 2023, which rejected the entry into office of the Virve Linder-headed city government. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

The elected mayor of the Ida-Viru County town of Kohtla-Järve is still unable to take up her post and install a new city government composition, due to an impasse which has lasted two months now. In the meantime, the city's budget is around €6 million in the red.

The city council at Kohtla-Järve has to approve the city government composition by February 27 or the council itself has to be dissolved.

The council has, however, rejected the three candidates Mayor Virve Linder (Isamaa), elected in November, has proposed as deputy mayor, ERR reports.

Regional daily Põhjarannik (link in Estonian) reports that no official coalition has been formed up yet, even as councilors from two electoral alliances, Restart Kohtla-Järve and Progress, and from the Reform and Center parties, voted in favor of Linder.

This in fact split the Center Party in the city council – one wing of the party is in opposition, Põhjarannik reports, together with the Social Democratic Party (SDE).

Linder herself told Põhjarannik she will start the formation of a new city government lineup following the rejection by the council chamber of her three deputy mayoral proposals, saying: "If anyone thinks that I'm going home to cry into my pillow now, they're wrong."

Põhjarannik reported that while Linder had mulled over quitting her post, she decided to take on the risk of playing a long game.

"I'll gather the lessons I've learned, draw conclusions from them and move on;" the mayor noted on her social media account Monday, adding that she had interviewed 15 "extremely sharp" people while setting up the new government lineup.

Should this be rejected by council deputies, Linder added, this outcome would represent those who were only acting in self-interest.

Linder, who previously worked as director of the Viru Prison, had nominated Aivar Lainjärve as deputy mayor, with the development and economic affairs portfolio, and Iti-Jantra Metsamaa, as deputy mayor for education and culture.

She also opted to continue with Evelyn Danilov as deputy mayor with the social affairs portfolio.

Danilov was one of more than a dozen suspects in the corruption investigation which led to the downfall of the last Kohtla-Järve city government, back in October last year.

Kohtla-Järve is struggling to balance the city budget, because it is currently in the red by six million euros. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that Kohtla-Järve has not been able to elect a new city government in three months

The issue is all the more pressing since the city, of 35,000 inhabitants, is currently in the red to the tune of € 6 million, ERR reports.

The municipality has a budget of over €50 million and, like many other municipalities in Estonia, it is feeling the squeeze in relation to rising costs.

Elina Visk, head of the city's finance department, said that savings can, however, be made, for instance owing to low attendance figures at the city's kindergartens, and should be based on Ministry of Finance proposals to the city.

The ministry, on the other hand, stressed that resolving the political standoff should come first.

Minister for Public Administration Riina Solman (Isamaa) – effectively minister for the regions – said: "My believe is that ending this stalemate and giving the city government the opportunity to bring decisions to the council is viabel. In fact, the financial situation with the Kohtla-Järve city government is not so bad that it cannot be rectified; it can be."

Daniil Starodubtsev, chair of the city council's budget committee of the Kohtla-Järve council, also expressed hope that the current city leaders will still find a way to submit a revised budget to be adopted by the end of March. This could also be amended subsequently if needed, he said.

Of the city council's 25 deputies, only nine supported the new city government makeup, while 15 voted against and there was one abstention, at Monday's vote.

While Linder took office as mayor on November 27, until the new city government takes office, she will not be able to perform her duties. In fact, caretaker mayor Kristiine Agu, appointed to the post after the collapse of the previous administration last fall, will remain in place for the meantime.

The corruption scandal which broke last October and which saw deputy mayor Danilov named as one of the subjects related to the granting of city council service contracts in Kohtla-Järve and also in neighboring Jõhvi to companies owned by local businessman Nikolai Ossipenko.

An earlier decision to appoint Olga Pihlak, who ran in Sillamäe in the 2021 local election, as deputy mayoral candidate in Danilov's stead, was rescinded at the last moment, ERR reports.

Another controversy recently hit the city after a Soviet-era statue was removed at short notice, as part of a nationwide drive to remove inappropriate reminders of Estonia's occupation at a time when Ukraine is under invasion from Russia.

Around three-quarters of the city's residents have Russian as their first language.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte,  Mait Ots, Rene Kundla, Marko Tooming

Source: Põhjarannik, Aktuaalne kaamera

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