making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler
When I heard about the ACORN sting, when two people posing as pimp and prostitute asked for help in getting a loan to open a brothel, I thought: what would happen if a local government official and a prostitute visited a local government attorney to ask for help in giving the prostitute a contract, so that the local government, rather than the official, could pay for her services?

One big difference is that it is not legal to open a brothel, but it might be legal to use your office...
Robert Wechsler
A week ago I wrote a blog post about preferential treatment, emphasizing that the way to distinguish preferential treatment from ordinary decisions and transactions, where someone is commonly preferred over others, is by whether the treatment is fair and whether the regular process is followed.

Fairness is the principal issue in a preferential treatment question...
Robert Wechsler
A central dispute in the first group of charges brought against Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley involved whether he was required to disclose properties held by a company he owned, as long as he listed the company among his assets. Stapley felt this was not required.

It is important to list an official's real-estate holdings in town, so that when issues arise affecting those holdings, the public can know whether he should have recused himself. In other words, such annual...
Robert Wechsler
Both times Maricopa County Supervisor Don Stapley has had criminal charges brought against him, the counts included perjury charges for omissions on disclosure forms (2008 charges, 2009 charges). Is this the best or even an...
Robert Wechsler
Update: 9/30/09
I was asked to do a short interview on Phoenix's NPR station KJZZ yesterday, to provide a government ethics view on issues relating to the latest battle in the uncivil war among elected officials in Maricopa County, the county that includes Phoenix. My research into what is going on raised all sorts of interesting issues. I'll deal with them in multiple blog posts.

First, what happened. County Sheriff Joe Arpaio arrested County Supervisor (effectively...
Robert Wechsler
Recusal is a touchy subject for government officials, for two principal reasons. One, withdrawing from a matter can appear to constitute an admission of misconduct. This is because so many people, and even ethics codes, consider it wrong to have a conflict. Actually, recusing oneself is a way of dealing responsibly with a conflict, and is the opposite of misconduct.

Two, raising the issue of a conflict can disclose information the official would rather keep personal. After all, the...