making local government more ethical

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Conflicts

Robert Wechsler
An article deep in the first section of this Sunday's New York Times presents an interesting ethical dilemma. In New York State, it used to be common for state troopers and local police officers to negotiate, effectively plea bargain, at the courthouse with people they'd given tickets to. And then, in 2006, the State Police set a policy banning this practice. The grounds for the practice are...
Robert Wechsler

Here’s a new, foolproof way for an elected official to make some money on the side: loan money to your campaign, charge it a lot of interest, and then pay the loan principal off slowly, over a number of years.

According to an article in yesterday’s Bloomberg.com, this is what Rep. Grace Napolitano of southern California did back in 1998. And it...

Robert Wechsler

Perks that public officials give themselves should be monitored as carefully as gifts, campaign contributions, and relationships with contractors. But they are not. And they’re usually easy to hide.

Rarely have perks been hidden as well as those of New York’s Republican state senators, who until this year controlled the senate for over four decades, according to...

Robert Wechsler
One of my pet peeves is that many if not most local government ethics codes limit the definition of "conflict of interest" to situations where an official's interest involves money. But there are many personal interests that create a conflict, even though no money is involved.

I learned this several years ago, before I was involved in government ethics work, when I made a motion to censure the first selectman in my town. He refused to allow my motion to be heard, and I...
Robert Wechsler
When is a conflict sufficient to require an official to resign (or not take a position in the first place)? This question involves a lot of gray area, and little black and white. What sorts of interest are enough to undermine public trust, and what sorts of interest provide opportunities for officials to benefit unfairly from their positions? Here are three recent situations where an official's external job was seen or not seen as creating a conflict serious enough to require resignation...
Robert Wechsler
So much of government ethics involves the contrast, and sometimes the collision, between ethics and law. Too often the personal aspect of government ethics is overlooked. All three get twisted together in a very simple matter that occurred last week in the Escondido (CA) city council, according to an article in the North County Times.
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