making local government more ethical
Undisclosed conflicts can cause a lot of problems, but rarely are they a matter of life and death. In Collin County, TX, north of Dallas, an undisclosed conflict could have been responsible for a man's death sentence (and, perhaps, many more sentences).

Privatizing local government functions can cause conflict of interest problems, but at least contractors can be held to contracts and replaced when they run afoul of ethics or other laws or requirements. The same is not necessarily true when non-profit organizations take over local government functions not as contractors or grant recipients (as with social service agencies), but as partial or full replacements.

Accusing someone of a conflict of interest can lead to trouble, especially if the person you accuse is a litigious lawyer and you do it outside of an ethics proceeding. This is what one can read from a $5 million suit filed by a former town attorney against the town of Victor, NY  (pop. 10,000) and a member of the town's planning board.

Many local government ethics codes define a conflict of interest as existing only when an official stands to receive a financial benefit from his or her action or inaction. But real and perceived conflicts exist even when there is no financial benefit to an official. Important examples include benefits to relatives and business associates, where the official only benefits indirectly, while others benefit directly.

According to an article in the Indianapolis Star yesterday, the mayor, city attorney, and communications director of Carmel (IN) all sat on the board of the town's Performing Arts Foundation, which gets lots of money from the city. A council member filed an ethics complaint, and the city's ethics board dismissed the complaint because the officials themselves received no financial benefit.

A new argument has been made in the legislative immunity part of the case against a Baltimore council member who is now the mayor. In a memorandum to dismiss a new indictment (attached; see below), filed on September 8, the mayor has argued, on pages 3-10, that testimony by someone who attended events which the mayor attended in her legislative capacity cannot be used against her.

This is an interesting extension of the argument that legislative immunity prevents any evidence to be introduced regarding a legislator's legislative activity. Such evidence ordinarily includes transcripts, recordings, legislators' testimony, and related letters and other documents, that is, documents that are part of legislative activity. It does not ordinarily include testimony by a non-legislator about an activity that was non-legislative in nature, but which was attended by a legislator.

DuPage County, IL, a county of nearly a million people just outside Chicago (its largest town is Naperville), is juggling two ethics ordinance revision processes, one for the county, the other for the county election commission. Both appear to have attracted some controversy.