making local government more ethical
Problematic Development
According to Harry Themal's column in yesterday's News Journal, the newly elected county executive of New Castle County (DE) wants to review government processes "top-to-bottom." There is just one catch. According to Themal, land use procedures are most in need of reform, but the new county executive's wife is a big land-use attorney representing local developers.

Two important issues arise from a story about a competitive bid for a concrete contract for an arena in Louisville which, according to an article in yesterday's Louisville Courier-Journal, was won by a company solely owned by a member of the state task force that chose the site, the chair of the board that manages the arena, a close friend of the coach of the arena's primary tenant, and a nonvoting member of the arena authority, whose executive director reports directly to the board that this individual chairs.
I find it fascinating that, although kickbacks (also known as "thanks giving") are one of the central elements of unethical conduct in local governments, I have only mentioned them three times in my blog posts.

Kickbacks are a dirty secret for one principal reason:  they are difficult to prove. Along with bribes, they require hard-to-obtain proof to tie money to conduct. Coincidentally, these are the two forms of conduct that the Supreme Court, in Skilling v. U.S., said the federal honest services fraud statute could be applied to (see my blog post on this decision).
The spread of corruption from local to state to national is often ignored. And when corruption is discovered, there is much litigation. In fact, it's often hard to see corruption clearly here in the U.S. That's why the occasional look at corruption abroad is useful, like looking in an only slightly distorted mirror.
Indefinite conflicts can cause a lot of problems for officials. They see them as not yet ripe, not something they should have to deal with yet. But others see them as looming in the future, and want to know how the official plans to deal with them. One such indefinite conflict is the subject of controversy in Tampa, where a council candidate is the executive director of a nonprofit organization that has a large contract with the city to build affordable apartments. This sort of indefinite conflict comes up a lot.

Another interesting ethics matter is raised in the article on the school board member in Santa Clara County (CA), which I discussed earlier today.

The DA's office notes that the contractor, for whom the school board member had worked as a subcontractor, had no obligation to disclose the conflict, so no charges were filed against it. The DA does not take the next step and ask why this obligation doesn't exist.