making local government more ethical
It would be easy to say that politics is a team sport, like football, while ethics is an individual sport, like tennis. But this simply isn't true. Both ethical behavior and unethical behavior can be done as a team.

Gray areas in local government ethics don't necessarily have to be gray areas.

According to an article last week in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a council member whose brother is a lieutenant in the city jail has been very vocal in opposing a plan to lease the jail to the county in which Atlanta sits. It is possible that the council member's brother would lose his job if the lease were approved.

Today I came across the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington (State) website. MRSC is "private, non-profit organization based in Seattle," whose mission is "to promote excellence in Washington local government through professional consultation, research and information services."

Since what's good for Washington local governments is good for any local government, this website is a good resource to know about. It includes a page of links to sample local ethics codes, a page on Washington state laws governing local government ethics, including the consequences of violating each law, and a conflicts of interest page that includes court decisions and AG opinions.

But, at least for me, the most interesting document on the website is the Public Law Ethics Primer For Government Lawyers prepared by the Washington State Municipal Attorneys Association and revised in 2010, after this blog post first appeared. Although primarily a legal ethics primer, there is an important overlap with government ethics when it comes to the representation of officials, especially when conflicts are involved. The primer attempts to answer the difficult question, What are a government lawyer's obligations when officials act not in the public interest, but rather in their personal interest?


In the hands of politicians, government ethics can be wielded as a double-edged sword, as can be seen in recent events in Mandeville (LA), a city of 12,000 just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans.

Ethics charges are often not the end, but rather the beginning of a process to improve government ethics. Take a recent instance in Los Angeles.


Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? In English: Who will guard the guardians? This is a question many people ask about ethics commissions. But the question I would like to raise is, Is this the right question to ask?

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