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Robert Wechsler's blog

Robert Wechsler

Contracting is one of the municipal ethics issues that is most often overlooked as an ethics issue. One reason is that the laws governing competitive bidding are often at the state level. Another is that municipal competitive bidding laws often appear outside codes of ethics (often because they are state mandated). But municipal contracting should be at the center of ethics concerns, because it is a relatively secret area where a great deal of wrongdoing and harm can occur.


Robert Wechsler

Reading the newspapers, you might not realize that behind all the fraud, non-disclosure, and "reckless mismanagement" that former S.E.C. Chair Arthur Levitt found in San Diego's pension and wastewater systems were serious conflicts of interest. The sort of conflicts of interest that most people consider "just doing business."

The August 8 New York Times article does refer to these conflicts, recognizing that...

Robert Wechsler

There are municipal ethics issues that will never find their way into any ethics code, but which should certainly be covered in ethics training courses. Many of these issues involve the relationship between government and businesses.

If there were no money to be made in and through municipal government, there would be far less need for ethics programs. Power does corrupt, but it's no accident that corruption so often involves relations with developers and contractors. It's also no...

Robert Wechsler

One of the most serious problems with municipal ethics codes is their unreadability. Few of those who write them seem to consider the capabilities of the code's audience: municipal officials and employees without a legal education.

In 1998, the Securities and Exchange Commission insisted that documents intended to disclose information to the public should be written in plain English, and to help with the process, it put together a Plain English Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC...

Robert Wechsler

This year Arizona will vote on a ballot initiative that will give one lucky voter in each election a $1 million prize. Is this an experiment that should be tried?

The arguments against this initiative are many, but a bit too easy. It's just a gimmick. It's public bribery (and possibly even illegal on this count). It won't work. People shouldn't be paid to vote; they should vote out of a sense of civic duty. People who vote in order to win a prize won't research the candidates. It will...

Robert Wechsler

Patronage is the most basic of all municipal conflicts of interest. It involves not only self-interest (my job), but also a variety of organizational interests (my agency, party, ethnic or racial group, friends). In every little patronage decision, all of these interests take precedence over the public interest. And yet patronage is also the most commonly practiced, and accepted, of all municipal conflicts of interest. Nowhere has patronage been practiced and accepted more than in Chicago....