making local government more ethical
The great majority of local governments that think they have no state or local law or rules regarding local officials' conflicts of interest do actually have a conflict of interest rule.

This rule is hidden in Robert's Rules, which is usually the set of rules under which local government bodies operate. Here is what it says in §45 (Voting Procedure), in the first subsection on Rights and Obligations in Voting (I'm quoting from the Perseus Publishing tenth edition, pp.394-395):

Open Records Requests and Ethics Proceedings
In an unusual twist on the confidentiality of ethics proceedings, counsel for the Colorado Springs mayor's former client, the person who gave rise to the mayor's apparent conflict of interest, has made an open records request for all documents related to the ethics proceeding against the mayor, according to an article in the Colorado Springs Gazette. Counsel for the complainant noted, “Is there any irony in the attorney for Marshall asking the city to turn the cards up when it seems that Mr. Marshall, in all his dealings, has preferred confidentiality commitments?" In fact, the complaint was filed to bring transparency to a secret deal (see my blog post on this).

A few local government ethics issues come together in the story behind the arrest today of 44 people in a political corruption and international money laundering ring based in New Jersey. The story is best told, so far, in the press release of the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.

Among those arrested are three mayors and a deputy mayor, two state assembly members, four rabbis, and numerous housing inspectors, investigators, aides, political consultants, and unsuccessful political candidates. I wrote about the last series of arrests in this ongoing investigation a couple of years ago.

Update: June 29, 2010 (see below)

I thought I would never write about anything concerning Gov. Sarah Palin again, but the report on an ethics complaint against her, regarding the fund created to pay the legal expenses from her defense against prior ethics complaints, is too interesting and valuable to ignore.

The report (attached; see below) deals with two provisions that appear in most local government ethics codes:  misuse of office and gifts. The report's author, Thomas M. Daniel, brings a rather fresh perspective to these provisions, in the context of officials' legal defense funds.

"Even the baby Jesus accepted gifts, and I don't think it corrupted him." and "The taking of gifts does not corrupt a person. It's when you're taking those gifts for personal gain that they corrupt you."

—Former North Carolina state representative Drew Saunders. These words were spoken back in 2006, but they're far too good to reject on account of age. What's especially interesting is the context in which the first statement was made:  Saunders was pushing for an amendment to a new ethics law that required a one-year cooling-off period for former legislators before they became lobbyists. Saunders' amendment, cutting the time to six months, succeeded, and when he lost a primary in 2008, he resigned his position and, six months later, became a lobbyist. Or, should I say, became one of the state's "wise men"? I found these quotations in the News & Observer and wral.com.

While so many local governments don't take conflicts seriously enough to require recusal, some take conflicts too seriously, and overreact. This appears to be what happened in Elizabethtown (NY), according to an article in yesterday's Press-Republican.