making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler

Ethics problems and the need for ethics programs are the stuff of cities and, perhaps, larger towns, or so most people think. In small towns, everyone knows everyone else, and people can't get away with unethical conduct. And as for corruption, there simply aren't enough zeros in the town's budget. There's not much to learn from small towns, in terms of municipal ethics. Right?

Middletown Springs, Vermont is a town of 823 (2000 census), and yet its town meeting voted on a proposed...

Robert Wechsler

Connecticut House Speaker James A. Amann has been receiving a great deal of criticism for asking lobbyists for contributions to the charity he works for as a paid fundraiser (including criticism from me: see my blog entry on fundraising problems). He has insisted that his solicitations are legal, and they probably are, since it cannot be proven that he directly received part of the money contributed (however, he did receive $67,500 last year...

Robert Wechsler

Another logical fallacy commonly used by municipal officials is the opposite of the Ad Hominem Attack: the Ad Populum ('[appeal] to the people') Defense.

The typical Ad Populum Defense is 'Everybody does it.' There are two simple responses to this. One is, 'How do you know what everybody else does?' In other words, you can't show that what you are saying is true. Another is, 'Even if you could show that everybody does it, that doesn't...

Robert Wechsler

Double-dipping occurs when someone holds two government jobs, usually at two different levels of government. This is not legal in many states, and for a good reason. It sets up many possible conflicts of interest, not the least of which is that when you're doing one job, you're not doing the other. It sometimes means actually dealing with yourself, wearing both your hats at once. It leads to a lot of pork-barrel spending, as local officials use their state power and local connections to...

Robert Wechsler

South Africa's police commissioner upon the revelation that he had met privately and repeatedly with a drug kingpin:

"Does that mean that anyone who has an appointment with him is a criminal?"

Robert Wechsler

The highest median income in 2005, and the fastest-growing county in the United States between 2000 and 2005. How does that translate in terms of local government ethics?

Sadly, not very well. The county is Loudoun in Virginia (principal town: Leesburg), not far from Washington, D.C. Although the issue politics is all about the pace of development (sold as "property rights"), the people politics has been all about connections with developers and realtors. Loudoun County provides an...