making local government more ethical
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.

It's Attack the Ethics Commission week once again, this time in New York State. According to an April 16 article in the Albany Times-Union, a mayor from one party filed a complaint against the deputy majority leader of the New York Senate, who is a member of the other party. The complaint is included below the article, and a statement by the mayor, about the filing, is quoted.

Fast forward to May 15, when the senate majority leader accused the state ethics commission of leaking the commission's letter to the respondent. What important information could possibly be in the letter to the respondent that was not already in the complaint?

According to the blog of Kansas City, MO's mayor, Sly James, the KC Commission on Ethics Reform will be holding a public hearing tomorrow on its draft ethics code.

It's clear from the draft that the commission made excellent use of the City Ethics Model Code. The result is a good draft that falls short in a few very important areas.

Most important, the ethics commission would be selected by the mayor. The mayor would even select who the chair is, something that is ordinarily left to a board or commission. Any time the commission is seen as letting off the mayor or a mayoral ally, or coming down hard on a mayoral opponent, it will undermine the public's trust in the ethics program. There would be a big conflict at the heart of a program designed to prevent conflicts and to gain the public's trust in its city government. Ethics commission independence, real and perceived, is the single most important part of an ethics program. It is the foundation on which everything else stands.