French mayor ‘to force artists to mind kids’

A far-right mayor in the southern town of Fréjus is allegedly considering making a group of local artists mind children in exchange for the rent subsidies they receive.

French mayor 'to force artists to mind kids'
The National Front mayor in Fréjus doesn’t feel the town hasn’t received enough in return from the artists. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/ AFP

Fréjus’ National Front Mayor David Rachline’s plan to have a group of around 15 local artists serve as “voluntary” minders of pre-school and primary-school kids has been met with outrage by those concerned.

“The Town Hall has decided to make us work for free, it wants us to take care of kids for free!” art photographer Olivier Isselin lamented, adding he was ready give up his studio if the plan goes through.

“We have no training in taking care of kids that small. And how will it work considering we often have to go away for exhibitions to do our real work?” he was quoted as telling French daily Le Parisien.

Because of their professional status, which is considered to be precarious in France, the artists have up until now received steep subsidies for their work spaces, paying only €2.50 per square metre a month in the old part of Fréjus.

But when their former rental contract with the Town Hall ended on June 30th, the new mayor decided to add a few conditions to the agreement, forcing the artists to participate in “educational activities organised by the city” between 4:30pm and 6pm.

According to Le Parisien, the mayor announced the measures during a Town Hall meeting on July 21st.

“The town finances a large part of the rents of a certain number of these ladies and gentlemen,” Rachline allegedly told the meeting, adding that Fréjus was only “getting a minimum in return”.

“There will be no more debate: either this project works out and everyone agrees to take part [in the child-minding activities], or I’ll put an end to artists not paying the same as everyone else.”

Lawyer Emmanuel Bonnemain said the child-minding obligation weren’t fair on the artists.

“Most of them are already financially strained,” he said.

“And here, [Town Hall] is adding an extra burden since they will have to do volunteer work during the time they usually create. The plan is also that the kids will be kept by the artists in their studios. But who’s going to pay the insurance for the material that the kids are likely to want to use?”

Calls made by The Local to the Fréjus Town Hall were unsuccessful.  


The rising tide of violence against France’s local mayors

As one French town said farewell to its mayor, who was killed while tackling fly-tippers, new figures have revealed the extent of violence and threats against local officials.

The rising tide of violence against France's local mayors
French mayors play a vital role in society. Photo: AFP

Jean-Mathieu Michel, 76, died after he pulled up and ordered two workers who were dumping rubble by the side of the road to take it away in the southern town of Signes, where he had been mayor for 36 years.

Now figures from the Ministry of the Interior reveal that in 2018, 361 mayors and their deputies were attacked.

Mayors at the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel. Photo: AFP

The death of Signes' mayor has revived the feeling of abandonment of many local elected officials.

The role of mayor comes with many powers and responsibilities, and even village mayors are responsible for a bewildering array of tasks, from planning permission for home improvements to organising elections and preparing budgets.

READ ALSO Why village mayors are so important in France

According to the Ministry of the Interior, the trend is likely to increase with 317 attacks in 2016 and 332 in 2017.

Of the 361 mayors and deputy mayors who were victims of “wilful bodily harm” in 2018, 261 received threats or were victims of blackmail, 145 of “non-criminal physical violence” and 178 of verbal threats.

In a message read at the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel by Jacqueline Gourault, Minister of Territorial Cohesion, Emmanuel Macron promised to “personally ensure that in the face of incivilities and the disintegration of the meaning of the State and the Nation by some, the answer is always firm, exemplary and without complacency”.

There are more than 35,000 mayors in France and while jobs like the mayor of Paris come with a multi-million pound budget and a team of staff, just over half of French mayors oversee communes with less than 500 people, and take a very hands-on role in the community.

Hundreds of people attended the funeral of Jean-Mathieu Michel, who was described as a “lovely man, devoted to his town”.

Speaking after the funeral, Marie-Jeanne Beguet, mayor of the eastern French town of Civrieux, told French online news site 20 Minutes: “I think that citizens allow themselves to say or do things they would never have done before.

“Like for example insulting a mayor and using inappropriate terms. It happens very easily, there are no barriers anymore.”