making local government more ethical

New South Wales, Australia Premier Nathan Rees announces plain language reforms

In an interview recently he said: "I want plain English to become an essential part of how the public sector does its business, every bit as essential as a financial impact statement."

His statement at the opening of the PLAIN Conference in Sydney October 16th included three points that he plans to implement:

This week saw the opening of the trial of former New York state senate majority leader Joseph Bruno for honest services fraud. According to the assistant U.S. attorney presenting the case, as quoted in the Albany Times-Union, although a criminal trial, "this case is about conflicts of interest. It's about failure to disclose conflicts of interest, and it's about concealment of information that might have exposed conflicts of interest."

While on the subject of pension boards in California, it's worth mentioning a new California bill, Bill 1584, signed into law on October 18. It is an amendment to the County Employees Retirement Law of 1937 (Section 22212.5 of the Education Code, Sections 20098 and 31528 of the Government Code, with the addition of Sections 7508.5, 7513.8, 7513.85, 7513.9, and 7513.95 to the Government Code), which prohibits a member or employee of a retirement board from becoming an endorser, surety, or obligor on, or from having any personal interest in the making of an investment for the board, or in the gains or profits that accrue from those investments, except as specified. That law also prohibits a member or employee of a retirement board or board of investments from selling or providing any investment product that would be considered an asset of the retirement fund to a retirement system established under that law.

Dallas council members' control over development in their districts led earlier this month to the conviction of one council member and four associates for extortion.

Now the Dallas mayor, Tom Leppert, is effectively forcing the hand of the city council to enact ethics reforms to provide more transparency and oversight with respect to development matters. According to an article in the Dallas Morning News, at this week's council meeting, despite attempts to close debate, the mayor somehow got ten of fifteen council members to support his reforms, as amended, in a straw poll. A final vote is expected at the next meeting, on November 9.

Update: November 11, 2009 (see below)

Is there any worse way to skirt government ethics rules and misuse public money and position than via a charitable organization? And yet it happens again and again. This time it happened in Baltimore, according to the results of an extensive investigation by the Baltimore Sun.

I've talked about legal defense funds in the past as a way to accept large gifts from those doing business with a local government, but I referred, tangentially, to only one local government legal defense fund, that of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. So I did some research and came up with a few other examples, which are worth knowing about if the issue arises in your city or county.