making local government more ethical

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Advisory Opinions

Robert Wechsler
Many government ethics professionals don't like waivers. I think they're valuable. Basically, they are requests for an advisory opinion in which the official recognizes that certain conduct would constitute an ethics violation, but wants a determination that he can engage in the conduct due to special circumstances. The result of such a determination is the creation of a new, narrow exception to a rule. This is a good way of preventing bad unforeseen consequences of a rule. But waivers must be...
Robert Wechsler
There is nothing more natural and, in most circumstances, ethical than a mother doing her best to help her son when he is in trouble. And yet, in most jurisdictions, there are multiple government ethics laws that prohibit this very conduct when the mother is a government official. This is as good an example as there is of the fact that government ethics is not about ethical conduct in general, but rather about government fiduciaries dealing responsibly with their conflicts of interest.
Robert Wechsler
Ethics reform can take the oddest forms, especially when those doing it put on blinders and consider nothing but the situation before them, thereby failing to consider best practices or, in fact, the practices of any other jurisdiction.

This is the kind of ethics reform that recently happened in Park Ridge, IL, a suburb of Chicago with 37,000 inhabitants. According to...
Robert Wechsler
A conflict situation in my state of Connecticut is instructive regarding a basic concept of government ethics, as well as a basic concept of legislative immunity.

Legislators insist that they require immunity because their motives in making decisions cannot be questioned outside their body. Government ethics, on the other hand, does not consider motive, only conduct and relationships. This is one of the principal reasons why I argue that legislative immunity does not protect...
Robert Wechsler
Another day, another grand jury report recommending government ethics reform. This report (attached; see below) comes from Orange County, NY, a county northwest of New York City, whose biggest town is Newburgh and whose most famous towns include the very different Tuxedo and Kiryas Joel.

The report criminally exonerates the county legislator who is its subject, because he did a couple things right:  he sought ethics advice from the ethics board, and he disclosed his employment with...
Robert Wechsler
According to an article this week in the Sun-Sentinel, the Broward County, FL commission is discussing changes to the countywide ethics program, focusing on gifts and ethics advice.

Gift Bans
Conversations about the problems with gift bans are like Hollywood monsters:  they never die (see ...