making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler
Applicant disclosure is an effective part of local government ethics that is usually ignored. Usually it is officials who are required to disclose potential conflicts of interest, either in the form of annual disclosure statements, revised when circumstances change, or in the form of announcements that they have a potential conflict and are withdrawing from involvement in a matter.

The principal burden should be on officials, but placing an additional burden on applicants -- such as...
Robert Wechsler
"I believe that an alderman's office is a political office," said Chicago alderman Suarez, one of 50 aldermen to get their expense allowances doubled last year, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. Suarez, however, refused to use city funds to pay for his ward office, because "it's hard to draw a precise line between legislative...
Robert Wechsler
In May I wrote a blog post about a so-called ethics emergency in Corpus Christi, declared by a lame-duck council at its last meeting. This so-called emergency was the excuse for pushing through ethics reforms without running them by the city's ethics commission or allowing public discussion. The new council quickly suspended the reforms, pending review by the ethics commission.

At least that was the excuse the new council used...
Robert Wechsler
Update below (Aug. 20, 2009)
Is the value of a gift given to a government official its fair market value or what the official gets out of it? For example, if you give an official a sportscar worth $40,000 and he only drives it ten times a year, is its value $40,000 or the cost of renting a car ten times a year? If you give an official a ticket to a football game and she leaves after the first half, is the value half the ticket or its full price?

This issue arises due...
Robert Wechsler
There's a lot of talk about the lack of government ethics in Albany, New York State's capital, but not much about the state of government ethics in the city of Albany itself. In July, the Albany Times-Union ran a long article on the mayor and the police chief's relationship with the city's largest developer. It also noted that the city council is considering an ethics code for the city (...
Robert Wechsler
According to a Washington Post article this weekend, U.S. Senators Conrad and Dodd were cleared by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics with respect to the senators' membership in Countrywide Financial's VIP mortgage program. The committee concluded that the senators were given special treatment, but that others were given similarly special treatment and that...