making local government more ethical
This week, according to an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Cuyahoga County (which includes Cleveland) passed a new ethics code, largely based on the recommended code drafted in October by the Code of Ethics Workgroup, set up by the Cuyahoga County Transition Advisory Group Executive Committee (the transition referred to is a change in form of government; see my blog post on this).

I could not find the final code. But the only major change mentioned online involves allowing county employees with seats on nonpartisan government bodies to keep their jobs (see a West Life article from January).

Seeking Order in Government
All government officials seek order, not just in the sense of law and order, but also in the sense of having everyone know their roles, their authority, and their relationships to other individuals and agencies.

Nonviolent actors seek order in societies where some kinds of disorder are taken for granted, for example, in dictatorships that have usurped authority and destroyed relationships.

In this sense, government ethics seeks order in governments where unethical conduct is taken for granted, where personal relationships have moved into government, and where officials have misused authority and undermined relationships, processes, and morale.

In his book The Search for a Nonviolent Future, Michael N. Nagler wrote, "Anyone who plucks up the courage to offer an opponent a way out of their conflict can find herself or himself wielding an unexpected power." You may need to read this sentence over a few times before it completely sinks in.

The Courage of Ethics Commissions
Is he talking about about internal conflicts or external conflicts, about violence or government ethics? And if violence, why would he focus on helping a violent opponent get out of his conflict? This is thinking outside the box in terms of violence, but it is exactly what every government ethics professional should be thinking when faced with an official's conflict situation. How can I help the official get out of it (or avoid it entirely, if possible)? Because handling the conflict responsibly is what is best for the public and its trust in government. The goal is to put the public trust at ease, to pacify the situation in the best way possible. This is not to be confused with appeasement. Such an approach is due not to weakness, but to strength, including the strength that comes with knowledge and understanding.

Faida Hamdy was a municipal inspector in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. She was not a very respectful municipal official. So when she found that a young fruit vendor did not have a license, she slapped him. She humiliated him in front of others. The fruit vendor set himself on fire, and this set the Arab world on fire, because the same sort of disrespect from government officials was felt throughout the Arab world. Disrespect is a very powerful thing. And so is respect.

Fortunately, the leaders of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt had been studying nonviolent techniques, techniques that demand and earn respect. And they successfully applied these techniques.

I recently read Michael N. Nagler's fascinating book The Search for a Nonviolent Future. Over the next few days, I will be applying some of the concepts and practices of nonviolence to the field of government ethics. This provides me with an opportunity to consider some of the most important philosophical and practical questions in government ethics.

I talk a lot about poor ethics environments, probably the single most important element in unethical conduct. But since loyalty is the strongest force in such environments, a great deal of work is done to hide the existence of poor ethics environments. After unethical conduct is discovered, it is rare for anyone to set out just how bad things were.

But sometimes things are so bad, it becomes clear that there aren't just a couple of bad apples, but a whole bad crop. Tamarac, Florida, a city of 60,000 in Broward County (home of Ft. Lauderdale) is such a place. In fact, southern Florida itself seems to have been one big rotten crop of oranges, at least during the boom years.

I had a conversation with a developer the other day, which got me thinking in what I think are interesting ways about unwritten land use rules.