making local government more ethical

The Selection of Ethics Commission Members by Community Organizations

Nothing is more important to an ethics program than ensuring that an ethics commission is seen as independent, and not a pawn of politicians. People will not trust the advisory opinions and enforcement decisions of an ethics commission consisting of people with even presumed ties to politicians. Since trust is the principal goal of an ethics program, this is unacceptable.

The City Ethics Model Code recommends, as an alternative to the nomination of ethics commission members by local government executives or legislative bodies, having nonpartisan community organizations nominate members instead. I give as an example Atlanta, which has each of the following organizations select one member:

    the League of Women Voters
    the Chamber of Commerce
    the Planning Advisory Board
    the Six Major Universities
    the City Bar Association
    the Gate City Bar Association
    the Business League

Milwaukee does it the same way. Seven organizations select one member each:

    the Public Policy Forum
    the Milwaukee Branch – N.A.A.C.P.
    the Milwaukee Labor Council
    the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee
    the Metro. Milwaukee Association of Commerce
    the Milwaukee Bar Association
    the League of Women Voters of Milwaukee County

Members of the Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission are selected as follows:
    The chief judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit appoints two members.
    The director of Florida International University’s Center for Labor Research and Studies appoints a member.
    The Miami-Dade League of Cities appoints a member.
    The dean of the University of Miami School of Law and the dean of St. Thomas University School of Law share in the appointment of one member
Five members of the Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County Board of Ethical Conduct are each selected by one of the following community organizations (a sixth, ex officio member is appointed by the council pro tem):
    League of Women Voters of Nashville
    Nashville Area Central Labor Council
    Napier-Looby Bar Association
    Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce
    Nashville Bar Association
Members of the Jackson County (MO) ethics commission are selected by a commission consisting of
    the executive director of the Mid-America Regional Council
    the dean of the U. of Missouri-K.C.'s School of Business and Public Administration
    the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City
Members of the Minneapolis (MN) Ethical Practices Board are selected by a board consisting of
    the Chief Judge of Hennepin County District Court
    the Dean of the University of Minnesota Law School
    the Dean of the University of St. Thomas School of Law.
Members of the Rochester (MN) Ethical Practices Board are selected by a board consisting of
    the president of Rochester Community and Technical College
    the chancellor of the University of Minnesota Rochester
    the highest ranking member of the Olmsted County Bar Association who is not associated with the city attorney's office.
Members of the Palm Beach County Ethics Commission are selected individually by:
    the Palm Beach County Association of Chiefs of Police
    minority attorney associations
    the president of Florida Atlantic University
    the county chapter of the Florida Institute of CPAs
    the county League of Cities (selecting a former elected official)
The county's inspector general will be selected by the EC plus representatives of the State Attorney and Public Defender offices.

Six of the nine members of Jacksonville's ethics commission are selected individually by:
    the mayor
    the council president
    the sheriff
    the chief judge for the Fourth Judicial Circuit
    the state attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit
    the public defender for the Fourth Judicial Circuit
The other three members are selected by the ethics commission itself.

Four of the five members of Tampa's ethics commission are selected individually by:
    the Dean of the Stetson University School of Law
    the President of the University of South Florida or University of Tampa
    two by the Chief Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit
The fifth member is selected by the mayor.

The seven members of the Cobb County, GA ethics board are selected individually by:
    the Cobb County Bar Association
    the homeowners' associations from Commissioner Districts Two and Three
    the homeowners' associations from Commissioner Districts One and Four
    the Civil Service Board of Cobb County
    the Cobb County Board of Elections and Registration
    the Cobb County Board of Commissioners
    Cobb County employees
Six of the seven members of the New Orleans Ethics Review Board are chosen by the mayor (with council approval) from nominees submitted by the heads of five local private universities (the seventh is the mayor's to select).

All five of the members of the Ethics and Compliance Commission of Jefferson Parish, a New Orleans suburb of 430,000, are appointed by the Parish President (with council approval) from lists of three nominees submitted by each of the presidents or chancellors of five local private universities.

In 2011, Cuyahoga County, OH (which includes Cleveland) had a citizen Code of Ethics Workgroup draft a recommended ethics code. The draft code provided for selection of ethics board members by community organizations, but the final code dispensed with the ethics board altogether. Here is the draft's unusual approach:
    Leaders of established countywide, nonpartisan, nonprofit entities interested in good government and institutional integrity shall be invited to submit to the County Executive the names of two nominees for each expected Board vacancy. At the discretion of the County Council, suggested nominating authorities may include the NAACP, the Norman Minor Bar Assn., an inter-faith clergy group, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, the Young Presidents’ Organization, the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, the City Club, a local university ethics faculty, the Center for Community Solutions, the North Shore Federation of Labor, a County employee association or the League of Women Voters. The County Executive shall appoint Ethics Board members from the lists provided, which appointments shall be confirmed by a two-thirds majority vote of the County Council.
Houston's ethics commission members are partially selected by community organizations, as follows:
    Position 1. Houston Bar Association, from the legal community.
    Position 2. Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, from the labor community.
    Positon 3. Harris County Medical Society, from the medical community.
    Positions 4 through 7. Council, from the city community-at-large.
Wyandotte County/Kansas City, KS ethics commission members are selected by what is known as the ad hoc ethics commission appointment panel, consisting of the administrative judge of the county district court, the district attorney of the county, and the legislative auditor of the county. Oddly, membership on the panel is voluntary and a quorum of two is required, so that it would be possible for there not to be sufficient membership on the panel to allow for the selection of ethics commission members.

Louisiana's ethics commission is selected from a list of candidates prepared by presidents of the state's private colleges.

Hawaii's state ethics commission members are selected by the Judicial Council, whose members are selected by the state supreme court, and include judges, lawyers, and "laypersons." The Judicial Council presents two names to the governor for each open seat, and the governor chooses one of them. There is no confirmation process.

In Santa Fe, NM, a local bar association selects eight names of lawyers to be members of the ethics board, from which the mayor selects four. The mayor also selects three non-lawyers.

A more informal alternative is used in Corpus Christi. Community organizations are asked to recommend people for the ethics commission, but anyone can send his or her name in. This alternative still allows politicians to choose ethics commission members, but it is better than nothing.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics