making local government more ethical
Applicant disclosure is an effective part of local government ethics that is usually ignored. Usually it is officials who are required to disclose potential conflicts of interest, either in the form of annual disclosure statements, revised when circumstances change, or in the form of announcements that they have a potential conflict and are withdrawing from involvement in a matter.
Explaining a political decision on the basis of government ethics, when that really isn't the reason, can lead to government ethics reform made on the basis of politics. That's what appears to have happened in Boerne (TX), a small "city" of 6,000 residents outside San Antonio.

"I believe that an alderman's office is a political office," said Chicago alderman Suarez, one of 50 aldermen to get their expense allowances doubled last year, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. Suarez, however, refused to use city funds to pay for his ward office, because "it's hard to draw a precise line between legislative and political activity," according to another article in the Chicago Tribune.

And when part-time local government legislators are given over $70,000 in expenses beyond an office, three aides, and a salary over $100,000 plus benefits, the precise line between legislative and personal activity also becomes an issue.

Republican candidates in Cumberland County, in southern New Jersey (pop. 150,000), are pushing for several ethics reforms, including some fresh ideas.

According to an article in the Press of Atlantic City and an article on nj.com, the focus is on opening up public access to information. Suggested transparency changes include posting more government records online, including budget, audits, contracts, and reports, as well as Open Public Records Act requests and responses; allowing the public to film or tape public meetings, and posting video recordings of county meetings online; and posting agendas for county meetings no later than three days prior to a meeting. These are all great ideas.

Jacksonville's ethics commission continues to explore interesting and valuable ideas, according to an article this week in the Jacksonville Financial News & Daily Record. At the first meeting of the commission's new procurement subcommittee, loopholes in the bidding process were discussed.

In May I wrote a blog post about a so-called ethics emergency in Corpus Christi, declared by a lame-duck council at its last meeting. This so-called emergency was the excuse for pushing through ethics reforms without running them by the city's ethics commission or allowing public discussion. The new council quickly suspended the reforms, pending review by the ethics commission.

At least that was the excuse the new council used. According to an article in the Caller-Times this week, the council did not accept much of what the ethics commission recommended (click, wait a while for the PDF file to load, and go to page 332ff), including the principal reform passed by the lame-duck council, which was to prevent the families and business partners of council members and senior officials from entering into contracts with the city.

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