making local government more ethical
According to an article yesterday on seacoastonline.com, a committee of the Select Board of North Hampton, NH (pop. 4,500) brought to the Select Board its concern about the town administrator dealing with health insurance issues when he was on the board of the state's Local Government Center, a local government association that makes available to towns in the state a health insurance plan, among other services. The concern was whether the administrator could be "objective in his investigation of alternatives to that organization handling the town's health care benefit program."

The Select Board decided that there was no conflict. "On the contrary," the Board wrote, "we feel fortunate that [the administrator] has voluntarily decided to spend the extra time and effort to represent the interests and concerns of the town of North Hampton."

There is an apparent conflict in this situation. There is also a potential conflict. But why is it not an actual conflict? And how should it be handled?

What can local government ethics professionals learn from what has come out in the recent indictments of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father, the city's director of water and sewerage, Kilpatrick's CAO and CIO, and a city contractor?

If a council member's law firm wants to bid on being the local government's attorney, a contract that is approved by the council, what is the responsible way to handle the matter?

Here are three cases from New York City that involve relations between superiors and subordinates, one of the most important aspects of local government ethics. What is especially interesting is that two of these cases involve co-opting, in one case of subordinates, in the other of vendors. These cases were included in COGEL's ethics update last week.

A Municipal Bid Rigging Scheme Comes to Light
According to an article in the New York Times this week, Banc of America Securities (which recently merged with Merrill Lynch) agreed to pay the SEC and others $137 million to settle charges related to a municipal bond bid-rigging scheme. For those who think competitive bidding rules are enough, this case should make you think otherwise.

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.