making local government more ethical
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:

According to an article this week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the new mayor of Poplar Bluff, MO is a gadfly who had been totally ignored when she questioned the dealings of her town government. This is generally a sign of a very poor ethics environment.

One of the problems she wants to deal with is the town manager's paid position on the board of a local bank. The manager's fellow bank board members consist of a "group of business leaders who also have their hands in much of the city business," in other words, restricted sources. Not only do these business people do business with the town government, but the bank does, as well (in a small town, most or even all banks do business with the government).

I am a big believer in officials taking voluntary action to improve an ethics environment when passing laws is not possible. For example, if the state and the council both choose not to prohibit campaign contributions from restricted sources, that is no reason why a mayoral candidate should not make it known that he will reject such contributions and do his best to get all candidates to reject them. In many instances, this can be the end of such campaign contributions in that particular city or county, and neighboring cities and counties may follow suit. But often, when voluntary action is taken, but no law is passed, there is backsliding.

"Wheeling" is a term I just discovered. The context is that NJ governor Chris Christie made a campaign promise to deal with "wheeling," and then failed to, according to a South Jersey Times editorial yesterday. Here's how the editorial describes the practice (many NJ local governments prohibit or limit contributions from their contractors):
It goes like this: Smith County has a fat consulting contract with Joe Blow Associates. Instead of giving $10,000 to the Smith County Republicrats, Joe Blow sends a $10,000 check to the Jones County Republicrats. Suddenly, a $10,000 “clean” donation from “Jones County Republicrats” appears in the Smith County incumbents’ campaign fund.
randomness