making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler

Local government attorneys have special conflict of interest problems. Should there be ethics rules particularly aimed toward them?

Here's a recent example of a situation that could have been prevented by such rules. In Reading, Pennsylvania, a city councilman asked the city's Board of Ethics for an advisory opinion concerning the fact that the Reading Area Water Authority had contracts with a company owned by the authority's executive director. The Board of Ethics determined that...

Robert Wechsler

Gerald Ford's passing revives the memory of one of the least remembered parts of the story of the Watergate affair: the pardon of Richard Nixon.

Remembering the pardon is important because it shows two important things about government ethics enforcement. First, how ethics rules are enforced is more important than the rules themselves. If rules are enforced with vengeance or if rules are enforced mechanically, they will not be respected except by those who desire vengeance instead of...

Robert Wechsler

In the November 5 issue of the New York Times Book Review, Michael Kinsley wrote, "The biggest flaw in our democracy is ... the enormous tolerance for intellectual dishonesty. Politicians are held to account for outright lies, but there seems to be no sanction against saying things you obviously don't believe. ... Yet one minor exercise in disingenuousness can easily...

Robert Wechsler

On November 15, 2006, David Damron of the Orlando Sentinel reported on Lawson Lamar, the local state attorney's call for "sweeping new ethics laws he said would limit the influence of developers and other special interests on city and county governments. In a Nov. 2 letter to city and county leaders in Orange and Osceola [counties], Lamar urged them to pass new laws that would dramatically limit campaign...

Robert Wechsler

Open Letter to Illinois Chief Justice Robert R. Thomas:

The news media are probably the most important single element in providing oversight in government ethics matters. And the most effective way to keep the news media from doing their job is to file a libel suit.

The New York Times ran an excellent article yesterday by Katharine Q. Seelye, which focused on a libel suit you brought against a...

Robert Wechsler

The New York Times has been running a series of articles about municipal pension funds (by Mary Williams Walsh, Michael Cooper, and Danny Hakim, August 20, 22, 27, September 1, 4, 2006). The articles focus on two principal problems: (1) pensions have been increased, largely in order to get short-term cuts in negotiations with unions, and (2) calculations to determine the health of pension plans usually have little relationship to reality. Each problem is essentially an ethical problem...