making local government more ethical

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Advisory Opinions

Robert Wechsler
According to an article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Friday, the state ethics board refused to give ethics advice to the Port of South Louisiana regarding whether the hiring of a parish (that is, city) council member would be appropriate, considering that the Port and council work closely together on projects, and the council votes on port-related issues. The reason...
Robert Wechsler
In early 2009, I started out a blog post, "Type 'ethics' into the search line at utah.gov, and all that comes up is Archery Ethics Course Online." That is no longer true. In fact, the state legislature not only has an ethics commission, it even passed a local ethics commission act. And in response to that act, some Utah municipalities have set up ethics commissions or hearing officers, and one group in Davis County is even at...
Robert Wechsler
Ethics commissions are often stuck with one or more ethics provisions that they are know are, in some ways, irresponsible. They can recommend amendments to the provisions, but the legislative body is free to ignore such recommendations.

If this happens, an EC is not always powerless. It can often promulgate a regulation that can interpret the language in a provision, or provide exemptions, so that the provision is more responsible. The Massachusetts EC, which has jurisdiction over...
Robert Wechsler
Many local ethics programs are caught up in an ongoing battle with the city or county attorney. Usually this battle goes on behind the scenes. But in Honolulu, due to an unusual grant of budget oversight to the corporation counsel, this battle has gone public.

I devoted a long section of my book Local Government Ethics Programs to the conflicts...
Robert Wechsler
In many jurisdictions, lawyers have sought to be excluded from ethics program jurisdiction, arguing that their conduct is regulated by their state's attorney disciplinary process. Recently, in Louisiana, other professionals have sought to be excluded from the state ethics program's jurisdiction (which includes local officials) pursuant to a different argument.

The issue is, When do employees of a private company become government employees for purposes of ethics program jurisdiction...
Robert Wechsler
Conflicts of interest are not always positive, any more than relationships are always positive. And conflicts are based on relationships.

We tend to think of an official using his position to help a family member or business associate. But sometimes officials use their position to harm someone with whom they have a negative relationship, anyone from a former in-law (the bum who dumped my sister) or current in-law (that woman who's driving my brother crazy) to a former business...

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