making local government more ethical
Update: May 12, 2010 (see below)

According to an article in Tuesday's Sun-Sentinel, Broward County (FL) Commissioner Ilene Lieberman feels that the ethics code written by a special commission on ethics (most of whose members were selected by the commissioners individually) was "drafted without proper research so as to avoid absurd and unintended consequences.'' As the incoming president of the Florida Association of Counties, this accusation carries some weight. Other commissioners seem to have the same concern, although their examples show no absurdities in the draft code. Here's an example of an example:
    Failure to disclose or to recuse oneself, even when it is not legally required, can lead to some big headaches, as can be seen in Portland, OR, where a city commissioner voted on a grant to a non-profit organization where his girlfriend works. Also interesting in this case is the commissioner's use of personal ethics rather than professional, government ethics in making his judgment calls.

    According to an editorial in the Press Democrat, the city council in Santa Rosa (CA), a city of about 150,000 north of San Francisco, has postponed consideration of an ordinance requiring city lobbyists to register, supposedly due to complaints from nonprofits who do not want to pay the $120 fee. (San Jose is currently considering an amendment to its lobbying ordinance, which would exempt nonprofits from paying the registration fee.)

    The proposed lobbying ordinance makes an exception for attorneys. Considering that most lobbyists are attorneys, such an exception would seriously undermines the ordinance.

    Update: April 29, 2010 (see below)

    The idea of a possible conflict of interest should not be an excuse for a fishing expedition to find relationships between local government legislators and people or contracts they vote on. This appears to be what is happening in Crossville, a town of 9,000 in east-central Tennessee.

    Pennsylvanians have, for some time, been entertained with a scandal called Bonusgate, which involves state legislative staff not only being used for campaigns, but getting bonuses, which makes a common practice appear even uglier. The ugliness has recently increased in intensity:  defense counsel for two of the legislators is accusing the attorney general (who instituted the criminal actions) of doing the very same thing, without the bonuses. And the attorney general, of a different political party than the great majority of the accused legislators, is running for governor. Could a screenwriter come up with a better plot to undermine citizens' trust in those who represent them?

    The elephant in the room is the fact that most elected officials use their staff in their campaigns, and often loan them out to others', as well. The way to deal with conduct this common is not to prosecute it (especially when it is politically convenient). The best way, I think, is to recognize that this conduct is here to stay, and then regulate it.

    When is a gift a campaign contribution? This issue has been raised in the trial of a Manhattan surrogate court judge, according to an article in yesterday's New York Times.