making local government more ethical

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Patronage involves a conflict between one's obligation to the public to hire the most competent person for each job, and one's political obligation to reward those who help oneself or one's colleagues get elected. Most ethics codes ignore this conflict. Please share your thoughts on its inclusion, as well as your experiences with patronage and attempts to control it.

100(10). Patronage

No official or employee* may promise an appointment or the use of his or her influence to obtain an appointment to any position as a reward for any political activity or contribution.

Comment: As has been shown so skillfully in Chicago, patronage involves both promises of jobs in return for political activity, and the threat of losing jobs in return for political activity, so that patronage continues on forever. Even the Shakman Decree of 1983 did not put an end to the Chicago patronage system: it just went underground. It was twenty years before the new version, based on fraud, was taken on.

Most ethics codes do not include patronage provisions, although many do prohibit asking subordinates to participate (however, this can occur without implicit requests or threats). Patronage involves the most basic conflict of interest in government: the conflict between holding on to power and acting in the public interest. A city government based on patronage cannot have a truly ethical environment, because most of its officials and employees are there on the basis of a quid pro quo/special consideration relationship, which is inconsistent with ethics.

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