making local government more ethical

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Ethics Codes

Robert Wechsler
Many people believe that conflicts of interest are limited to situations where money is involved. When these people write ethics laws, as they often do, the law effectively says that where money isn't involved, any conduct is acceptable.

For example, Pennsylvania's ethics code, which applies to local officials, defines "conflict of interest" as follows (emphasis added):
Use by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any...
Robert Wechsler
A week ago, I wrote about a poorly written provision in Denver's ethics code, and the danger it poses not only to Denver, but also elsewhere, since local governments in Colorado and in other states are apt to look at the ethics code of such a large, well-respected city (although now that its highness has two meanings, who knows).

On a happier note, this post will look at an excellent decision...
Robert Wechsler
Alysia Santo wrote an excellent Insider Politics column in the Albany Times-Union last week on the need for a post-employment provision in the city that is the capital of New York state. But the columnist went further than this, looking at some aspects of the city's institutionalized corruption (without actually giving it a name).

She focused on...
Robert Wechsler
Are those who draft local government ethics codes unusually eccentric? Unusually clever? Or just lazy? Whichever it is, they don't seem to consider best practices, or even the practices of better ethics programs. Across the U.S.A., ethics code drafters seem to pull many of their provisions out of a hat. And as with Rocky the flying squirrel, sometimes they pull out a rabbit, sometimes a rhino, and sometimes Bullwinkle the moose.

The inspiration for this mini-rant is...
Robert Wechsler
An Oakland Ethics Reform Proposal
According to an article this week in the Mercury News, an Oakland, CA council member has proposed to more than triple the city ethics commission's staff, expand its oversight powers to include campaign finance and lobbying (currently handled by the city clerk), have its executive director report to the commission, and...
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.