making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler

Transparency is one of the most important elements of government ethics. And yet government ethics itself is often kept secret. Respect for the privacy of those investigated is given preference over the rights of residents to know what is going on. Ethics commissions often do not file annual reports and, when they are required to, the reports are rarely placed on a city's website. Ethics violations are considered embarrassments that should be swept under the rug, and ethics violators are...

Robert Wechsler

Fred Anderson's review of Gordon S. Wood's book Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books contains a passage on government ethics that gives an interesting context to our thoughts about it.

'Eighteenth-century British America ... was dominated socially and politically by 'gentlemen'' a comparatively tiny minority of men whose liberal education and public spirit, so it was thought, enabled them to perceive...

Robert Wechsler

One of the best ways to create a more ethical environment in local government is to have more people run for office. The more people who run for office, the more pressure is put on the closed world that many local governments preserve. This closed world is preserved through the lack of interest not only of voters, but also of potential candidates, who feel the only way to get elected is to know the right people in the right way. Few people know what the options are.

The League of...

Robert Wechsler

Either the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is the head of a vicious manhunt unknown since the days of J. Edgar Hoover, or Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent J. Fumo has not only failed to apologize for all that he has done, but he has, like so many unethical politicians before him, gone to the other extreme: denying every accusation and presenting himself as a victim....

Robert Wechsler

The ethics reforms coming out of New York and Utah provide two contrasting, yet equally questionable approaches. In New York state, ethics legislation was negotiated among the new governor, the assembly speaker, and the senate majority leader, behind closed doors. In Utah, the governor said he would issue an executive order.

The background for each of these approaches is the same: the legislature could not or would not come up with ethics reform on its own. The Utah governor said he'd...

Robert Wechsler

As I state in my comments to section 207 of the model code, cutting the funding of ethics commissions is a popular way for politicians to prevent investigations from happening. Therefore, ethics reformers are always looking for new ways to ensure funding.

In Oregon, legislators decided to turn to local governments as a dedicated source of funding of an ethics commission that oversees local government officials.

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