making local government more ethical
Last week, I wrote about municipal corruption scandals in Montreal. This week, I'm happy to be able to write about a report requested by the province of Quebec, which determined that the province's municipalities should all have a code of ethics (only about 10% do now), that the largest cities and the counties should have ethics commissioners, and that financial disclosure and ethics training should be required. Contractors would be covered under the codes.

See update below:
An issue that arises in many local governments involves campaign contributions from local government employees, which often appear to be coerced or required, that is, they appear to result from a misuse of office by elected officials. Often, it appears that the giving occurs because employees are concerned about keeping their jobs. This concern includes concern about retaliation as well as concern about what will happen if the candidate loses.

This issue arises because such contributions are not occasional, but instead very common. In smaller jurisdictions, employees often provide a majority of an elected executive's campaign funds.

In yesterday's miscellany, I talked about an ethics commission member conflicted due to having played a role in the campaign of an official brought before the commission. There are two ways to deal with such a conflict. One is to deal with it like any conflict, when it arises. The other is to prevent the conflict from occurring.

Ethics Reform and Ethics Environments
This weekend, the Press-Enterprise ran an excellent editorial about ethics reform in San Bernardino County. Not only do the editors recognize that watered-down, "symbolic" ethics reform is worthless, but they also recognize that even valuable ethics reform, such as a proposed sunshine ordinance that goes beyond state requirements, is "not be enough to fix the county's shameful political culture. Ethics commissions focus on objective rules about campaign donations, gifts, lobbying and similar concerns. Those types of violations pale compared to the scandals that repeatedly have rocked San Bernardino County."

Read the WHOLE story
Update - July 31, 2009 - see below
In my April blog post about the legislative immunity defense made by a former Baltimore council member (now the mayor), I felt that her arguments didn't have a chance. Well, I was wrong. I was wrong primarily because I thought that a state prosecutor would be determined to see the case through and, therefore, would put up a good fight on the issue. He did not (his argument on this issue is attached; see below). I was also wrong because a local judge fell for the legislative immunity argument hook, line, and sinker, going out of his way to make what I consider to be a specious argument about separation of powers (the decision, State of Maryland v. Dixon, is attached; see below).

As I have noted again and again, there is no more difficult, conflicted role than that of a local government attorney. In small towns, there's not a lot that can be done. But in cities and counties, there are several things that can be done to lessen the local government attorney's conflicts.