making local government more ethical
What politicians say about a government ethics issue is sometimes so devoid of a basic understanding of government ethics that it's hard to believe that they are not being willfully ignorant (i.e., not discussing ethics matters with ethics professionals) or cynically disingenuous. If only there could be some requirement that, before an official opens his or her mouth to say something about government ethics, he or she actually discussed the matter with someone who does understand it. Not any lawyer, but a professional in the field. Then at least we'd know whether it's ignorance or faux ignorance.

Take what is being said about the proposed consolidation of all the state ethics agencies in Connecticut (my state) in order, it is being said, to save money. I wrote a blog post recently about the problems this consolidation raises, and yesterday the Hartford Courant ran an op-ed piece by Mitchell Pearlman, former executive director of the state's Freedom of Information Commission, making many of the same arguments, and more.

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.