making local government more ethical
Last week, I wrote blog posts about how Chicago's ethics program needs more independence and more transparency than the Ethics Reform Task Force recommended. I couldn't have imagined better evidence to support my criticisms than what has been happening recently with the New York state Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). The goings-on there show how a lack of independence combined with too much secrecy can make an ethics commission open to attacks that undermine its credibility.

Although the Chicago Ethics Reform Task Force, in its first report, came out strongly in favor of more transparency in government, in its second report it came out strongly in favor of what it calls "confidentiality" in the ethics program. I call it what the public calls it: "secrecy."

Yet Another Mayoral Charity Mess, This Time in Toronto
According to an article in the Toronto Star this week and another in the Globe and Mail yesterday, today Toronto's mayor will appear in court "to explain why he participated in a council debate about whether he should return $3,150 in improperly raised donations" to his football foundation. Yes, you read that right:  a mayoral football foundation. It raises funds to buy football equipment for children.

Who were the donations from? Your average football fan? No, several lobbyists, their clients and a company that does business with the city.

The principal topic of the second report of the Chicago Ethics Reform Task Force is the relationship between the Board of Ethics and the city's dual inspectors general, one for the executive branch (the IG) and a new one for the legislative branch (the LIG). Currently, there are communication and jurisdictional problems among these three agencies. The task force's recommendations would bring an end to these problems, but I think there are solutions that are better for an ethics program.

(Note: This post has been revised, based on a response from Steve Berlin, executive director of Chicago's ethics board. I had made the silly assumption that the underlined language in the ethics reform ordinance was new. It turns out that much of that language has been there for some time. So I've deleted some comments and made changes to others.)

Recently, the Chicago council passed a series of ethics reforms (attached; see below) in response to the first report of the city's special ethics task force (see my blog post on this report). In that blog post, I noted much that was totally left out of the report, so I won't repeat those omissions here, except to say that there were lots of them and they are very important.

Providing incentives to attract companies or get them to expand their operations in a city or county has always been a controversial issue. Incentives are seen as necessary to attract, keep, or expand jobs locally, but they can also be an unnecessary way to get local governments into bidding wars (or what is presented to them as a bidding war) with other local governments, to the benefit of companies who are going to build or expand no matter what local governments offer.

Providing incentives can also lead to ethical misconduct, or the appearance of impropriety. This is the case in High Point, NC, where Ralph Lauren was given both a sizeable incentive to expand (by both city and county) and land use changes, according to an article this week in the Greensboro Rhino Times.

A dispute arose when a council member provided a market survey to Ralph Lauren before the council met on its requests, but after the High Point Economic Development Corp, which recommends incentives to the council, had been dealing with the incentive request.