making local government more ethical
What can local government ethics professionals learn from what has come out in the recent indictments of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father, the city's director of water and sewerage, Kilpatrick's CAO and CIO, and a city contractor?

Things have changed. It used to be that the first thing you did when you found out the local ethics commission was investigating you was hire a lawyer (which is itself a change from the days when you found out you were being investigated by the D.A. and handed him a bribe).

In this era of the image and the consultant, the truly with-it (if that term is still in use) government official turns to the image consultant. And that is what Baltimore's Employees' Retirement System board has done, according to an Investigative Voice post on Sunday.

A Failure to Respond to an Ethics Complaint
It's always interesting to see how many ways there are not to deal with ethics complaints. When you think you've seen them all, a new one comes out of nowhere.

In this case, nowhere is Taylor, Michigan, a city of 65,000 outside Detroit. According to an article in the News-Herald on Saturday, two city council members filed an ethics complaint last March. According to §2-176(b) of the city's ordinances, the city attorney is supposed to determine if the complaint is valid and, if so, recommend to the board of ethics or human resources department what to do next. But nothing was done with the complaint and nothing was said to the complainants.

Referendum Requires Ethics Training and Increases Penalties
I learned at the COGEL conference last week that a referendum passed in New York City last month requires all city officials and employees to receive conflict of interest training. The Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) does provide training, but officials and employees are not required to take it. This change is extremely valuable.

Here are three cases from New York City that involve relations between superiors and subordinates, one of the most important aspects of local government ethics. What is especially interesting is that two of these cases involve co-opting, in one case of subordinates, in the other of vendors. These cases were included in COGEL's ethics update last week.

Yet another court decision discussed at the COGEL conference placed First Amendment free speech rights far above the obligations of a government official, employing a strict scrutiny approach where a simple due process (for statutory vagueness) approach would have been sufficient. This time the official is a member of the Sparks (NV) city council, in fact, the same council member who successfully sued to overturn an advisory opinion of the state ethics commission in a case I carefully reviewed in a July blog post.