making local government more ethical
It's hard for ethics codes to deal with every kind of relationship where nepotism might be a problem. In a matter involving the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), the relationship involves oversight.

According to an article in Sunday's Palm Beach Post, the SFWMD executive director's boyfriend was hired as an engineer auditor, a newly created job, by the SFWMD inspector general. The IG does not report to the executive director, and the executive director was not directly involved in the hiring process. There is no question that the boyfriend is experienced and qualified. So far, so good.

A Failure to Respond to an Ethics Complaint
It's always interesting to see how many ways there are not to deal with ethics complaints. When you think you've seen them all, a new one comes out of nowhere.

In this case, nowhere is Taylor, Michigan, a city of 65,000 outside Detroit. According to an article in the News-Herald on Saturday, two city council members filed an ethics complaint last March. According to §2-176(b) of the city's ordinances, the city attorney is supposed to determine if the complaint is valid and, if so, recommend to the board of ethics or human resources department what to do next. But nothing was done with the complaint and nothing was said to the complainants.


There's a new twist to the ethics mess in Stamford, which I described in a blog post last week. It turns out that, according to an article in the Stamford Advocate, a board of finance member, against whom an ethics complaint had been brought, charged that the city employee who filed the complaint "violated the code because in filing a complaint he sought to preserve his employment with the city and therefore influence [the respondent] 'for his own financial gain.'"

In Milwaukee County, according to an article in Sunday's Journal-Sentinel, a county supervisor is seeking to add to the county ethics code a confidential information provision that would not limit the prohibition to what is common in ethics codes: information divulged for someone's benefit.

As I've written before (1 2), this is not a government ethics issue, because there is no conflict between the public interest and the official or employee's personal interest. In fact, there are many situations where divulging confidential information is in the public interest, for example, in the course of blowing the whistle on improper conduct by other officials or employees.

In The Kingdom of Individuals (Cornell University Press, 1993), F. G. Bailey's principal concern is what he calls svejks (pronounced "shvikes"), that is, individuals in organizations who put their personal, but not usually financial interests ahead of the organization, and yet act as if they are loyal to the organization, using its proclaimed values to defend their actions. This is not the sort of conflict of interest that is ordinarily dealt with in government ethics. But what the author says about the conflicts of interest in organizations, including governments, is valuable, and often fascinating.

So in the next few blog posts, I will riff on ideas raised in this book.

Update: February 19, 2010 (see below)

This blog post is about Chicago, and things are more complicated in Chicago than in other American municipalities. So please read slowly and carefully.

According to an article in yesterday's Chicago Tribune, the first deputy in the mayor's Office of Compliance resigned a few weeks after he and the office's executive director were found by the city's inspector general to have mishandled a 2008 sexual harassment complaint (e.g., they tried to find the accused another city job). The IG recommended that the mayor suspend the two men for thirty days without pay.