making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler

It is difficult to be an ethical politician or administrator, or even a citizen, without a basic understanding of logic. It is also difficult to appreciate others' unethical conduct without a basic understanding of logic.

By logic I do not mean the opposite of irrationality, but rather critical thinking, and specifically an understanding of logical fallacies. Logical fallacies are probably the most frequent form of unethical conduct in municipal government. They involve the conscious...

Robert Wechsler

My blog entries must often seem like attacks on business interests. One reason is that conflicts are usually about personal financial interests conflicting with a government official's obligations to the public, and our democratic values require that the official's fiduciary obligations take precedence. And where there are financial interests, there are usually businesses.

But that is not always the case. Obligations themselves can conflict, without any direct financial interest. The...

Robert Wechsler

Some towns have proximity rules, that is, rules that require officials to recuse themselves from any matter dealing with property within a certain distance of property they own or rent. But it is hard to have a set number of feet or yards. A distance appropriate to an urban environment is very different from one appropriate to a rural environment.

There are considerations to balance here. On one side, there is the good of making ethical guidance as clear as possible. On the other side...

Robert Wechsler

You don't hear too much about recidivism in the municipal ethics world. One reason may be that it happens, but often at different levels, as a politician moves up the ladder.

Take Congressional Representative Gary Miller, for instance. According to a recent article in The Hill, he got his start when he was a member of the Diamond Bar (CA) City Council. In his role as council member, he...

Robert Wechsler

It is very common for public servants to say (or others to say for them) that they did not feel they had a true conflict or did not understand the law. And often this is true. But why so often do those same people often try to hide the fact that they did not disclose their conflict (or the extent of it) or do something about it until they had no other choice?

This is what happened recently in the New York City schools. According to...

Robert Wechsler

The big story this week from Largo (not Key Largo, but a West Coast town), Florida has a little bit of everything in it. I don't think any ethics code would deal with what occurred, but the situation certainly raises a number of important ethical issues in a municipal government context.

The story involves a city manager's announcement that he was going to change his gender, and, one week later, the city commission's vote (5 to 2) to put him on paid leave and begin the process of...

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