making local government more ethical
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.

There is little in government ethics that is more important than recognizing that, unlike other laws, an ethics code provides only minimum standards. That is, a public servant is required to fulfill the letter of an ethics code, but this is just the start. In this way, ethics laws are not like ordinary laws. Why and in what way? Here are two different responses.

The New Orleans Ethics Review Board, formed in 2006, certainly wins an A for independence. According to the city ethics code, six of its seven members are chosen by the mayor (with council approval) from nominees submitted by the heads of five local private universities (the seventh is the mayor's to select). Unfortunately, the result is that the majority of board members work at the universities.

Some news in Greensboro, NC led me to a blog post on old news in Greenburgh, NY, so here's the new news and the old news about two cities with nearly the same name.

In Greensboro, NC, a council candidate has thrown down a challenge to fill out and post online the state financial disclosure form. It's not quite appropriate, since all its references are to the state, but it does require a good deal of disclosure. At least one mayoral candidate has risen to the challenge. A local blogger wonders aloud about certain candidates and what they might have to hide.

Government ethics policies sometimes clash. The most common clash involving ethics commissions is with transparency laws.

Like any government body, ethics commissions would prefer not to discuss many sorts of matters in public, both to protect the parties involved and because it is uncomfortable to discuss many ethics matters in public. Because counsel is present during most such discussions, ECs (and their lawyers) often feel that such discussions are privileged. There are also often rules that require confidentiality, at least until probable cause is found. And there are also often rules that require confidentiality regarding the names of those who seek advisory opinions.