making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler

“We have a system that only catches morons.”

—Unnamed New York state legislator and ethics reformer, quoted in Gail Collins' New York Times column today. The "system" being referred to is our criminal justice system, which is only able to prosecute government officials who take bribes from strangers (see...
Robert Wechsler
“Incompatible offices” is a form of conflict that is usually left out of ethics codes. One reason is that there is a common law prohibition against officials holding incompatible offices. But whether or not the conflict is common law or in an ethics code, this is an important kind of conflict that should be included in ethics training so that it is understood. It should also be a topic for which officials may seek ethics advice.

There are many offices that one individual should not...
Robert Wechsler
A settlement in a Massachusetts ethics proceeding can be used as an educational opportunity in several ways.

According to a February 28 press release from the Massachusetts Ethics Commission, which has jurisdiction over local...
Robert Wechsler
I begin the "Intent" section of my book Local Government Ethics Programs by noting that, "One of the distinguishing aspects of government ethics is the fact that it does not deal with or require a showing of intent, willfulness, knowledge, or motive."

The next sentence is, "This is yet another reason why the criminal enforcement paradigm is not a very good fit for government ethics."

I raise...
Robert Wechsler
It would be really helpful if people could find recommendations for ethics reform all in one place, but this rarely happens. Ethics task forces and ethics commissions that ask for such recommendations from good government groups, officials, and academics rarely make them available to the public online. Collections of such recommendations would be a useful resource both for those interested in government ethics in the particular city or county, and for those elsewhere who are considering ethics...
Robert Wechsler
Government ethics proceedings are usually not very satisfying for those involved. Individuals rarely get to tell the entire story from their point of view. Nor do they profit from hearing how others saw the situation or experienced the events. The format for ethics proceedings is similar to the criminal justice system, with charges, a prosecution, witnesses, documents, and the ethics commission as jury. Or a settlement is reached, the equivalent of a plea bargain, and no story is told at all...