Conflict of Interest or Expertise?
One thing that's good about local government is that so much of it is done by volunteers. Volunteers aren't professional politicians. They have something better to do with their time.
Yes, most of them do. But for many, government service is central to what they do with the great bulk of their time.
An article in the Alamogordo, New Mexico Daily News (12/27/06) focuses on the most basic and, apparently, insoluble ethics problem in New Mexico, whose governor is trying to push through ethics reforms: the fact that state legislators are unpaid "citizen legislators."
Legislators on the governor's ethics task force opposed giving themselves even a minimal salary or sizeable expense reimbursements (they get a daily stipend for the days the legislature meets).
They're apparently satisfied with their other jobs and proud of their volunteer status. And it's a small bonus that their legislative positions can do many of them a lot of good in their day jobs. As the article's author, Walter Rubel, writes, "What would be seen as a blatant conflict of interest in other states is considered 'expertise' in New Mexico."
And what about in local governments? Why are there so many lawyers and real-estate professionals in local government? Is it for their expertise? Or is there more to it than that?
For local government, this too is a central and insoluble ethics problem. Or has anyone thought of a way to solve or at least ameliorate it? If so, please share your thoughts.