Sa Calobra. | R.E.


In 1995, Mateu Puigròs became mayor of Sant Llorenç. A whole generation has grown up knowing only Mateu, although he can't claim the longevity record for mayors in Spain in the democratic era. Prior to the municipal elections last year, there were 31 mayors in Spain who had spent forty years in the post, mostly all of them having been mayors of tiny municipalities of fewer than 1,000 residents. At 8,431, Sant Llorenç isn't exactly enormous, but in municipality-size terms it can't be classified as small either. There are 8,131 municipalities in Spain, and 5,002 of them have populations of under 1,000.

So Mateu can point not only to his long service but also to service on behalf of a municipality that has - all things being relative - a not insubstantial population and the needs that such a population brings. Which isn't to say that the tiny municipalities don't have their complexities. The smallest in Majorca is Escorca, with all of 212 people. Antoni Solivellas doesn't have Mateu's longevity - he's only been mayor since 2011 - but it's not as if such a small place makes life easy. Given that mostly all of the land in Escorca is protected in some way is one reason why the life of the mayor and councillors isn't straightforward.

The rules, the regulations, the laws, the dealings with different authorities, some of them more remote, as in that they lead to Madrid ... being a mayor is not exactly a bed of roses. On top of the administration and the bureaucracy there are always the political brushes, while a mayor never seems too far away from being denounced for some reason or another. In the past there were probably good reasons, but town halls and the individuals who occupy them know that there is a very different culture surrounding local administration these days.

It's why one has to applaud someone like Mateu Puigròs, who in recent times has had to endure more difficulties than most mayors. One could perhaps have understood his having chosen to step down after the tragic events of October 2018, but he didn't and opted to continue to serve the municipality.

All mayors will have their critics, and I'm not saying that Puigròs hasn't had his and doesn't now have them, but it seems to me that one has to be pretty damn committed to want to be a mayor for so long. In fact, there has to be high commitment to want to be mayor just the once. An example of a one-term mayor was Toni Mir in Alcudia. I recall going to his office not long after he had become mayor. There was a great pile of documents on his desk. "Denuncias," he said partly in a jocular manner and partly out of resignation.

Mir, Puigròs, Solivellas are - it seems to me - cut from similar cloth in that there is no desire to go any further than the town hall. I know this of Toni Mir, because he said that he had no ambition beyond being a mayor for four years and for considering it an honour to serve his home municipality. Being a mayor might hint at a route to higher things, but there aren't that many examples to support this. The former president of the Balearics, José Ramón Bauzá, was certainly an exception rather than the rule; he had been the mayor of Marratxi.

The limit to ambition is therefore being handed the mayoral stick of office - the "vara" - and to matters of a municipal nature. Defence of municipal interests and the people of the municipality is central to the role. It isn't perhaps quite the be-all, as there is a wider community (Majorca) to also consider, but this defence is fundamental, and it makes no difference - or shouldn't make any difference - what political affiliations a mayor has.

There are mayors about whom we hear rather more than others. Mayors of Palma are never out of the wider public's gaze, while the larger municipalities apart from Palma can also produce some familiar names. Alfonso Rodríguez in Calvia is a prime example, and Magalluf is one reason why he is so familiar. But there are also occasionally mayors from smaller municipalities who command attention. And Joan Monjo in Santa Margalida is one of them.

He's recently been handed the "vara" under the mayoral job-sharing scheme at Santa Margalida town hall, a far from unusual arrangement where pacts of parties make up the ruling administration. The transfer of duty was the justification for Joan being interviewed, as would have been an appreciation that he does greatly divide opinion and has been known to be somewhat controversial. He's been knocking around the town hall for longer than Mateu Puigròs has been mayor of Sant Llorenç. As town hall legends go, his celebrity spreads wider than Santa Margalida, and yet for all his detractors, it cannot be said that he isn't a great defender of municipal interests. And it is this, the defence, which is above all why anyone would want to be a mayor.