making local government more ethical

Ethics Reform IV - Allen County and Columbus, IN et al

Allen County, IN
According to an article in the Journal Gazette, Allen County, IN, which includes Fort Wayne, amended its ethics ordinance after a complaint was brought against a member of the county council. It turned out that it wasn't clear whether the ethics ordinance even applied to elected officials, whether the ethics commission could sanction officials, or even how the chair is appointed or what constitutes a quorum (the last two topics could easily have been dealt with in bylaws).

It appears from the article that the county commission just did some housekeeping, bringing more clarity to the ethics ordinance, rather than attempting any true ethics reform. It did give the EC jurisdiction over elected officials, but still allowed elected officials to make determinations re sanctions (the top sanction being censure). It did increase the EC's membership from three to five, which is a good thing. But in a county of 355,000, there still is no ethics program:  no ethics officer, no timely advice, no required training, no disclosure, no rule on withdrawal, no hotline. The county commissioner spearheading the reform thinks Allen County has a good ordinance, although he acknowledges there may be more to do. The county commission should certainly do more.

Columbus, IN
This city of 45,000 not far from Indianapolis seems to be completely lost when it comes to establishing a government ethics program. According to an article in the Republic, the mayor pushed for ethics rules for a year, the city attorney wrote them up, and then the council brought in an outside attorney who established "legal penalties for being rude or insulting to other city officials."

Fortunately, the council tossed that aside, went back to the now former city attorney's draft, but changed it in two very important ways. First, they took out the ethics commission and "ethics attorney," and the penalties, as well. Then, they reduced the ordinance to a resolution of the council, which has less force.

Now they're arguing about the gift amount. I wouldn't expect much from this ethics reform attempt.

According to an article in the Tallahassee Democrat, the city's ethics commission is finalizing recommendations for ethics reform, including an independent ethics officer, a hotline, enhanced training for employees, and ethics training for vendors.

South Carolina
According to an overview article in the State, ethics reform in South Carolina died after a blue-ribbon commission recommended the creation of an independent board that could enforce ethics rules against state legislators.

According to an article in the London (ON) Free Press, provincial and municipal officials are calling for changes to be made to the Ontario conflicts of interest act after a judge dismissed Toronto's mayor (see my blog post). One wonders, however, if they will do anything more than correctly change the rule that requires judges to treat all ethics violations equally, dismissing offenders for even minor misconduct.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics