making local government more ethical
Time is a very important element of conflicts of interest. Some conflicts simply exist, but others either occur suddenly or suddenly become relevant.
It's been almost two years since the New York Times broke the story on the abuses of New York City council earmarks slush fund, which totaled about $50 million a year. This week, the council member featured in the Times article was expelled from the state senate for a violent act committed against his female companion, according to an article in yesterday's Times. And according to a Times article today, another council member was indicted by a federal grand jury for much the same sort of conduct. Not the violence, but the misuse of council earmarks to help himself and his family, which included charges of money laundering, extortion, and fraud.

But unlike the violent council member, this one was enabled by hundreds of elected and appointed city officials.

Some lawyers abuse or misrepresent the lawyer-client privilege and client confidentiality to protect their own unethical conduct. But no one does it better than elected government officials who also happen to be lawyers, and have the ability to draft ethics laws.

A report by the New York City Bar Association, Reforming New York State's Financial Disclosure Requirements for Attorney-Legislators, which was published in January, could identify only four states -- Washington, California, Alaska, and Louisiana -- that have financial disclosure requirements for elected officials which extend to attorneys. In other words, the other states exclude attorneys from disclosing information about their work and the origins of their livelihood. And in Alaska and Louisiana, disclosure requirements were extended to attorneys only in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Update: February 5, 2010 (see below)

Here's an interesting dual position question, that is, a question involving one individual holding two government positions. The most important conflict involved in dual positions is that you cannot consistently fulfill your fiduciary obligations to one constituency while fulfilling your obligations to the other. See my blog post on state-local dual positions for a discussion of more possible dual-position conflicts.

Update: February 3, 2010 (see below)

A NC Local Government Blog post yesterday made me aware that there have recently been some very public conflict of interest issues involving North Carolina's alcoholic beverage control (ABC) system, the state liquor sales program, which allows each city and county to have a local alcoholic beverage control board and employees (163 boards in all).

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court published its decision relating to the conflict of interest charges against five members of San Diego's pension board, which I discussed a couple months ago in a blog post.