making local government more ethical
Mike DeBonis's article in the Washington Post last week describes an operatic ethics matter, with several twists and complications, with dramatic cries of innocence mixed with scathing accusations of guilt. The article is certainly more exciting than this blog post, which focuses on issues raised by the the Notice of Violation, dated February 6, (attached; see below). I hope the post will, at least, be enlightening.

Here are the basic facts, as stated in the Notice of Violation. In 2006, D.C.'s chief administrative law judge entered into a business relationship with a woman to purchase investment properties in the D.C. area. Both principals put money into the enterprise over a period of years. In 2010, the judge hired her business partner as the general counsel of her government office, "without posting/advertising the position or interviewing anyone else for the position."

Government officials leaving office do not have to do just the minimum necessary to help gain the public's trust. They can do a lot more. And they can even make the rules they're following clear, so that they suggest an alternative to others and provide guidance.

What is needed are role models. Jesse Eisinger of ProPublica wrote about two possible role models in his New York Times column on Thursday. One is Sheila Bair, former head of the FDIC who, in order to prevent conflicts, was determined to take a job outside the country. She felt that taking a job even with an institutional investor or reform group in the U.S. would be problematic, because she would be lobbying her former colleagues. When she gives a speech to a bank overseen by the FDIC, she gives her fee to charity.

Human Rights Watch has just published a harrowing report entitled "Profiting from Probation," which shows how the privatization of probation has led to conflicts of interest that have seriously harmed many individuals, and how probation companies have not been sufficiently supervised by the criminal justice system.

When a lawyer decides to represent a private client, she does not give up her right to vote or petition governments on her own behalf. But what about when a lawyer decides to represent a public client, especially as a lobbyist? Does such a lawyer give up her right to vote on issues relating to the city government (assuming she sits on another government's board) or petition a government on behalf of her own beliefs?

These questions arise from a case in Cincinnati, where a city lobbyist also sat on the county elections board. According to an article this week on, the city government strongly opposes moving an early-voting site out of the city's downtown, but the lobbyist supports the move. The mayor asked the lobbyist to withdraw by abstaining from the elections board vote. Instead, the lobbyist withdrew from his lobbying contract, which had paid him nearly $9,000 a month.

This is the last of four blog posts on Florida Senate Bill 606 (attached; see below), one of the worst ethics reform bills I have ever read.

The Florida League of Cities was deeply involved in drafting these supposed ethics reforms, which I criticize in my last three blog posts. The question needs to be asked:  Was the League acting for its members as officials representing the public interest or as individuals with personal interests that might conflict with their obligations to their constituents?

Incompatible Political Offices
According to an article this week on the TribLive website, an ethics complaint was filed against an Allegheny County, PA council member for working as a constituent services representative for a state senator whose district partially overlaps the council member's. The county ethics code prohibits council members from being employed on the personal staff of any local, state or federal elected official.

This sort of incompatible offices rule can be controversial, and it is being strongly opposed by the council member, who wants it changed. But this is just the sort of situation such rules are good for. When the council member deals with a constituent matter, is he doing it for the county or state government? Which hat is he wearing? Also, considering that his time is limited, will he put (or will it appear he is putting) his employer's constituents (most of  whom live outside his council district) ahead of his own constituents? And how will anyone know?