making local government more ethical
This week, Seattle's expanded Whistleblower Protection Code became effective (attached; see below). As what appears to be the most extensive local whistleblower code, it deserves a look from any local government seeking to draft or improve whistleblower provisions.

The major changes to the code, according to the ethics commission's (SEEC) website, are:
Employees who report wrongdoing to their supervisor or other person in their chain of command will now be protected from retaliation.

The SEEC will now investigate allegations of retaliation.

If reasonable cause is found that retaliatory actions have occurred, options to address the harm of retaliation are expanded.

Both the institutional effects of retaliation, such as demotion and transfers, and retaliatory acts by individuals can be addressed and sanctioned.
Florida Senate Bill 606 (attached; see below) is one of the worst ethics reform bills I have ever read. But it is far worse than the words it consists of. What makes it worse is that, with respect to laws that affect local officials, it is largely the work of the Florida League of Cities (this was confirmed to me by representatives of both the League and state senator Jeff Clemens, the bill's sponsor). It is work like this that leads me to question whether local government associations should be permitted to lobby on matters involving government ethics. This issue will be dealt with in the last of the blog posts related to the bill.

Penalties on the Complainant
It's hard to know where to start. So I'll start with the most insidious proposal — an additional penalty on complainants — because here the League of Cities has shown a level of cleverness that I have not seen elsewhere. Unfortunately, the League's cleverness has been employed to get around a 1988 decision striking down the very same penalty on complainants, based on First Amendment free speech rights.

It came to my attention in an interview with Professor James Svara, for a paper I am writing for the journal Public Integrity, that in March 2013, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) made substantial — sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, sometimes baffling — changes to its Code of Ethics (the revised code is attached; see below). This post will look at the changes that involve conflicts of interest.

Yesterday, Oregon's Statesman Journal reported an interesting case that involves a number of important government ethics issues.

The state's Department of Corrections (DOC) deputy director allegedly used his position to influence an Oregon Corrections Enterprises (OCE) administrator into hiring his son and later giving him a higher salary and increased moving expenses.

Another OCE administrator reported these allegations to the state's Department of Justice (DOJ), which found no criminal wrongdoing. One wonders why the DOJ didn't turn the matter over to the state's ethics commission? After all, why would use of one's position to help one's son (prohibited by an ethics provision) be a crime?

An op-ed piece in the New York Times Sunday Review today looks at whistleblowing from the perspective of whether people lean toward fairness or loyalty (those who lean to fairness are more likely to blow the whistle on misconduct). This is, of course, a simplistic approach, but valuable nevertheless. What is especially valuable is the authors' recommendation of reframing whistleblowing. They want to reframe it "as an act of 'larger loyalty' to the greater good. In this way, our moral values need not conflict."

It's a great idea to try to frame something in a way where values are less likely to conflict. But the problem with this framing is that a determination needs to be made of what is "the greater good." Is it transparency or national security, creating a scandal that undermines trust and puts the other party in power or keeping it quiet, where no one is harmed very much, following formal processes or having an efficient government?

In government ethics, the framing of whistleblowing does not have to be about a "greater good" that needs to be determined, (1) because "the greater good" is clear:  the public's interest in having its community leaders act in the public interest rather than in their personal interest; and (2) because loyalty in government is also more clear. Yes, there is loyalty to superiors, to colleagues, to party, to the agency or department. But these are, or should be, secondary to loyalty to the people who have placed their community in the hands of its government's officials and employees.

According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel last week, the Florida Commission on Ethics found probable cause that the Osceola County Clerk of the Court "[used] his position to intimidate [his office's] employees in order to enhance his personal and political power." This raises the issue of whether intimidation can be considered an ethics violation.