making local government more ethical
It all started with a private meeting among three members of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority board, according to an article last week in the Orlando Sentinel. The subject of the informal meeting was the ouster of the executive director, which took place at the next formal meeting.

But after an investigation into the private meeting, a grand jury indicted one of the three members for bribery and soliciting compensation for official behavior. Lesson:  open meeting act violations are sometimes related to government ethics and criminal misuse of office violations.

It's questionable whether a contractor, developer, grantee, or other individual or entity that seeks special benefits from a local government should be permitted to make sizeable campaign contributions to candidates for positions in the local government. But if they are not permitted to make such contributions directly, they should not be permitted to make them indirectly, either.

According to an article today on the KPBS website, development companies and other real estate interests found a way to support the incumbent San Diego county supervisor's campaign without declaring, in the speech that was purchased with their money, that they were providing the support. They did this by contributing $100,000 to the county deputy sheriffs association PAC, which in turn funded flyers for the supervisor candidate. The flyers told citizens that they were paid for by the county deputy sheriffs association, with no mention of the developers.

Although twenty years old and about the state level, Alan Rosenthal's The Third House: Lobbyists and Lobbying in the States (CQ Press, 1993) provides valuable food for thought about lobbying at the local level. This first of two posts looks at such topics as the importance of relationships to lobbying and what makes local lobbying so different.

The mayor of Miami-Dade County has announced the formation of a Procurement Review Task Force to, according to his May 6 memo (attached; see below), "improve and simplify our procurement process."

The principal goals of the task force are:
To ensure that all procurements continue to be conducted with the maximum level of transparency, fairness and integrity."

To "make procurement more efficient, easier to navigate for vendors," in other words, to significantly reduce "non-value added requirements. This also includes a full review of any changes needed to promote and implement Public-Private Partnerships and innovations from the private sector."
Balancing these two goals is one of the most difficult aspects of procurement. It is very hard to simplify the procurement process and reduce its requirements, while preserving transparency, fairness, and integrity.

How much jurisdiction need a government ethics program have over procurement matters when there is a procurement program dealing with them? This question, common to all cities and counties, is being asked in Honolulu, with respect to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), which will be soon awarding about a billion dollars in contracts.

According to an article Friday in Honolulu Civil Beat, Honolulu's ethics commission "is worried that there isn't enough government oversight to ensure that private companies aren't given sweetheart deals." According to the EC, in a letter to the mayor and council, there has been an increasing number of complaints about contractors relating to “unauthorized access to confidential city information, nepotism, and use of taxpayer dollars for political purposes." The problem is exacerbated by the fact that HART is an independent authority, over which the EC does not clearly have jurisdiction, even though the authority pays its contractors with city taxpayer funds.

Another day, another grand jury report recommending government ethics reform. This report (attached; see below) comes from Orange County, NY, a county northwest of New York City, whose biggest town is Newburgh and whose most famous towns include the very different Tuxedo and Kiryas Joel.

The report criminally exonerates the county legislator who is its subject, because he did a couple things right:  he sought ethics advice from the ethics board, and he disclosed his employment with a county contractor to the county legislature's attorney (who responsibly told the legislator to seek an ethics opinion from the ethics board) and other county officials, and in his annual disclosure statement. But the report does recognize that there are still problems which should be considered by the ethics board, including (1) the legislator's vote on a project when he was in talks about employment with a contractor working on the project, and (2) the legislator's signing in to a meeting, which was chaired by a county official, as a county legislator, and then soliciting business for the contractor he had been employed by.

Despite its exoneration of the legislator, the grand jury — like many grand juries and unlike most local legislatures — took a look at the county's ethics program as a whole, making recommendations that went beyond those that would prevent the particular misconduct it was considering. However, it still made piecemeal recommendations, without any research into best practices (there is mention only of some state and nearby practices, and government ethics programs in New York state are not, on the whole, very good). Here is a list of its most important recommendations: