making local government more ethical
Yesterday, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held oral arguments on the appeal of the RI legislative immunity decision. I want to focus on two important issues that arose in the oral arguments, according to an article in the Providence Journal. But first I want to share with you a photo from the Journal (photographer: Mary Murphy) that shows something I never thought I'd see:  a protest sign against the Speech or Debate Clause (Speech in Debate in R.I.) in the context of government ethics. (click on attachment below to see the photo)

Update below
An ethics emergency was declared in Corpus Christi on Tuesday, according to an article on the KIII TV website. During the final meeting of the council before the council membership changes post-election, the lame-duck council declared an ethics emergency in order to amend the ethics code (click and go to pages 47ff) in order to prevent council members, senior officials (the city manager and staff, and department heads) and immediate family from entering into contracts with the city.

See Update Below
The accusations made by New York's Inspector General that the executive director of New York's Commission on Public Integrity leaked information about an investigation to a close associate of the target of the investigation (the governor) are very upsetting. But there are two important lessons to be learned here.

One, ethics commissions should be as independent as possible, so that when such things occur, it is clear that they are personal rather than political issues. And two, ethics commissions must manage their staff, as difficult as this might be both personally and in terms of time. And I say this as the staff of a public financing board.

One great thing about the Internet is that it provides a clear picture of how people respond to officials who do not deal responsibly with their conflicts of interest, and how such irresponsible actions can undermine people's trust in government.

The word from Jackson County (MO) last week was that the county legislature was "close to revising the county’s ethics code to include them under its rules," according to an article in the Kansas City Star, as discussed, very skeptically, in a recent blog entry. Taking themselves out of the ethics code was what had led to the ethics commission resigning en masse.

A week later, an amendment to the ethics code was filed by the very people who said they were putting themselves back into the ethics code. The amendment is five pages long, plus a paragraph, but only the plus a paragraph part is new. The paragraph allows for judicial review of ethics commission decisions. No change will be made to jurisdiction over county legislators.

The biggest thing missing from ethics codes is lying. Everyone agrees that a government official or employee who lies lacks integrity, but ethics codes almost never prohibit this.

It isn't that lying is okay, it's just very hard to enforce. Defending a lie leads to more lies and other forms of dishonesty. It can get really ugly.