We Need a Support Network
I've just finished reading a book called Illicit by Moises Naim, about the trafficking of everything from people and drugs to artworks and counterfeit DVDs .
One of the things Naim focuses on is why governments have so much trouble putting a dent into any of these types of trafficking. The principal reason is the structure of relationships. Government bureaucracies lose out to increasingly flexible networks of individuals.
In the municipal ethics world, the situation is similar, but even worse outside the larger cities. On one side, you have complex, flexible networks of elected and appointed officials, government employees, party committee members, lawyers, developers, realtors, and others who have common personal interests and a shared experience of power.
On the other side, you have ethics commissions and ethics officers who participate little, if at all, in any network, and whose interests are neither personal nor compelling. In fact, most of these people feel alone, ignorant, and powerless.
Hardly an even playing field.
The idea behind City Ethics was to create a flexible network of local government ethics professionals and ethics commission members, to develop their common interests, share their ideas and knowledge, and hopefully create a community that makes its members feel less powerless and better about their role and responsibilities.
But it hasn't happened. There seems to be almost no interest among local government ethics professionals in participating in, not to mention cultivating such a community. Not one person has even publicly shared his or her ideas about what a site like City Ethics should look like, how it can be improved.
While local government players are talking about how to get around ethics laws, how to keep them from being improved, how to cover up when misconduct is suspected, local government ethics professionals are talking far less about, for instance, how to train and how to improve not only ethics laws but the entire ethical environment of a municipal government.
Few municipal ethics professionals attend COGEL conferences, and few of those stay in touch regularly (and even then mostly one-on-one) in between conferences.
I would like City Ethics to be the place to do that. Another place would also be good, if people preferred it. What I don't like is people giving up without even trying to use modern technology to network and share.
Local government officials don't act unethically all by themselves. They have great support networks. Why shouldn't we? Please think about this, and if you agree with our goals, participate, even if to criticize the way we're going about it. And try to get people in your personal network to participate, as well.
Director of Research