making local government more ethical

Ethics Charges as a Beginning

Ethics charges are often not the end, but rather the beginning of a process to improve government ethics. Take a recent instance in Los Angeles.

According to a City News Service article last week, a construction director for the Los Angeles Unified School District "was charged with nine felony counts of conflict of interest for allegedly hiring people he employed in his own business to work for the district." He and two others were accused of creating a corporation to "profit from the hiring of construction management personnel." The director allegedly recommended that the school district hire his employees, and he failed to disclose the conflict. In addition, the director's company received a kickback from salaries paid to its employees when they worked on school district construction projects.

According to an Associated Press article, the L.A. controller will begin an investigation into school district construction practices. It is rare that only one manager in an agency is misusing his office.

Not only should government officials responsibly handle conflicts, but they should also responsibly handle the discovery of unethical and criminal activity, recognizing that it may not be an isolated instance. If the filing of an ethics complaint or, in this case, charges against one manager is correctly seen as a sign of a poor ethics environment, the ethics environment can be investigated and radically changed.

By the way, this case also shows that conflicts can be a modus operandi. Seven years ago, the construction director's business partner was fired by the school district due to a failure to deal responsibly with a conflict of interest.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics