making local government more ethical
Indefinite benefits, like indirect benefits, are often not dealt with by ethics codes, and this means that they can cause confusion and controversy. This is one reason I tend to speak in terms of "possible conflicts," because possible conflicts based on indefinite benefits can be just as injurious to the public trust as certain conflicts based on certain benefits.

In the current situation in Cincinnati, it is not certain whether the streetcar project will benefit the council member's family firm, nor is it even certain that the streetcar route will run by or near the family firm's property, as the council member pointed out in his letter to the editor. However, the great likelihood, based on other such projects and the intent of this project, is that it will benefit all nearby properties and businesses.

A government official's relationships -- to family, employer, business -- are very important to determining whether conflicts exist. Both the type and the directness of each relationship are also important.

Here again are the basic facts of the situation in Cincinnati that I will be using to touch on a variety of issues (see the previous blog post for a list of the issues). A council member works for a development company owned by his father and his uncle, but has no ownership interest in the firm. The firm owns or has development rights to nine properties within three blocks of a proposed streetcar line, which has come before the council on a few occasions, and will have to be finally approved by the council. The firm has also proposed a $100 million development project, which would involve tax increment financing (TIF) money and a tax abatement from the city. The development would, it appears, be built near the proposed streetcar route.

According to an blog post this week, the chair of the Honolulu Ethics Commission resigned on April 22. Although his letter of resignation provides no cause for the resignation, the chair apparently said that he had been asked to assist a mayoral candidate's campaign and did not want to violate the ethics code.

However, the blog post provides a great deal of evidence that the chair had already violated the ethics code provision on ethics commission member involvement in campaigns:
    A week ago, I wrote about the weaknesses of an ethics initiative in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. This week, in neighboring Lackawanna County, the responses to a March 25 state ethics commission decision has shown truly irresponsible handling of one man's conflicts in two school districts.

    Is the partisanship of local government elections a government ethics issue? I think it is, partly.

    A Good Discussion of a Possible Conflict
    It's good to see ethics discussions where both sides have good arguments to make. According to an article yesterday on, the selectmen of Lakeville, MA were discussing the possible hiring of an electrical inspector who does electrical work for the town of 10,000 south of Boston.