making local government more ethical

Making Your Own Good Luck

Imagine this story. A mayor calls a group of local contractors and developers to a closed meeting on furthering economic growth in the city. The guests are given a welcome pack, and in the welcome pack is a plain brown, unmarked envelope. The mayor ran on a platform of stopping corruption, but the contractors and developers have seen this happen before. Politicians are all the same, they think.

During the meeting, the mayor asks her guests to open the envelopes. Inside the envelopes is one sheet of paper, on which the guests are asked to write the names of three local government officials or employees who have asked them for, or simply expected and accepted, gifts, bribes, kickbacks, or the hiring of relatives. She promises to have these individuals investigated.

Is this the fantasy of a good government nut? No, it actually happened. But it wasn't an American mayor who did this. It was the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, according to an article in last week's Economist.

This sort of government ethics leadership is almost unimaginable. It shouldn't be. When a mayor or city/county manager knows there is corruption, and believes it is officials who are the culprits, she shouldn't wait for complaints to be filed. She should ask those who know. And expect an answer in place of a bribe.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics