making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler
When a congressman goes after a lawyer whose organization filed an ethics complaint against him (in his capacity as Colorado's secretary of state), you know he is more interested in getting even than he is in the public interest. Getting even, however, is not what public servants should be doing.

According to an AP article yesterday, Congressman Mike Coffman filed a...
Robert Wechsler
Recusal is a touchy subject for government officials, for two principal reasons. One, withdrawing from a matter can appear to constitute an admission of misconduct. This is because so many people, and even ethics codes, consider it wrong to have a conflict. Actually, recusing oneself is a way of dealing responsibly with a conflict, and is the opposite of misconduct.

Two, raising the issue of a conflict can disclose information the official would rather keep personal. After all, the...
Robert Wechsler
When a government employee holds or runs for elective office, there can be conflict of interest problems. The principal problem occurs when the government employee has to participate in a matter that directly or indirectly affects his or her agency or department. Whether there is a conflict depends on how direct the effect is. Another problem involves running for office in violation of the federal Hatch Act.

According to...
Robert Wechsler
The business coalition in Palm Beach County (FL) really gets it. One reason is that City Ethics' Carla Miller has provided advice. The coalition consists of Leadership Palm Beach County, the Palm Beach County Business Forum, the Palm Beach County Economic Council, and the Voters Coalition. Its positions are best stated in a short essay available at the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County site.

The...
Robert Wechsler
Preferential treatment is one of the most difficult ethics provisions to deal with, because it seems on its face so open-ended. Every time a decision is made, someone is preferred over someone else, whether it's a hiring decision, a contract award, or a zoning change. But if these decisions are made fairly and through the appropriate legal process, there is no preferential treatment.

Preferential treatment involves acting unfairly and outside the appropriate legal process to give...
Robert Wechsler
One of the most difficult things for a government official to do is to determine whether his or her conduct creates an appearance of impropriety. Partially blinded by ego, surrounding yes-people, and the government's ethical culture, an official often finds nothing wrong with conduct that many or even most outsiders -- that is, citizens -- find questionable or downright wrong. It is hard for them to put themselves in citizen shoes in order to see whether their conduct might appear improper...

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