making local government more ethical
This is a very serious blog post, but I want to start it with a game. Here are the headlines of stories that are said to be "related" to an article on the WLTX website yesterday relating to local government ethics in South Carolina:

  • Naked Woman Creates Ruckus on Delta Flight
  • Latest Forecast Update on Storm Potential
  • Deputies: Thieves Took 4,560 Gallons of Gas
  • 10-year-old Boy Stabbed in Back with Steak Knife at School
What could the article be about?

I had a conversation with a developer the other day, which got me thinking in what I think are interesting ways about unwritten land use rules.

According to an article in the Metro West Daily News on Friday, the Ashland (MA) board of selectmen sent two reported allegations of possible acts of ethical misconduct to the state ethics commission. The request sought not enforcement, but clarification. I hope by "clarification" the board meant that it is seeking advice about continuing the behavior. Its other option was to file a complaint with respect to past behavior. But it did not seem to want to "accuse" its fellow selectman of anything.

I'm going to keep showing how wrong the criminal enforcement of ethics laws is until there is at least some sign of movement away from it. This time I will do it by looking at two recent proceedings in which serious penalties are involved, one criminal, the other civil. The criminal penalties are about punishment, the civil penalties about strengthening the ethics program and sending important messages to other officials and employees.

Update: August 26, 2011 (see below)

At the same time there is talk of local government ethics reform in New York State, the new attorney general has his own plan for local government oversight. But it is all criminal in nature.

His idea is to place public integrity officers in all thirteen attorney general offices in the state, starting with Rochester. The new attorney general's predecessor, now the governor, founded the Public Integrity Bureau in 2007, with a mandate to investigate corruption, fraud, and abuse of authority.

On January 28, the New York State Bar Association issued a report on government ethics reform in New York State, which includes a section on local government ethics reform. The report points out the many inadequacies of Article 18 of the General Municipal Law (click on GMU, then scroll down and click Art. 18), and recommends major improvements in what the state requires of local governments with respect to ethics.