making local government more ethical
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.

Oklahoma's Open Meeting Act, which applies to local governments, ends with an unusual provision. That provision is the only provision in the act that deals with enforcement. It says that a willful violation of a provision is a misdemeanor, and that someone guilty of a violation may be fined up to $500 and/or imprisoned in a county jail for up to one year.

Is there any other nation in the world that would allow someone to be imprisoned for not properly going into executive session? And is there any other nation in the world that would use such an expensive, difficult, hamfisted enforcement process for a transparency law?

Local governments cannot afford to do the level of due diligence that corporate compliance offices do on a regular basis. But it is worth looking at how corporate compliance offices and corporate executives deal with other entities that are found to be involved in unethical activities. A report just out from Deloitte, Look Before You Leap: Managing Risk in Global Investments, sheds some light on this, based on a survey done last year.

Before I get into the report, I think it's worth noting the mindset reflected in the title:  dealing with individuals and entities with a history of unethical or corrupt conduct is, from a professional point of view, a matter of managing risk. The risk is not only to the reputation of the officials who deal with such individuals and entities, but also, more important, to the reputation of the local government (there are often monetary consequences, as well).