making local government more ethical
The power of the pen is great, and one place that it is especially powerful in the field of government ethics is in summaries and directions. Those who write summaries of ethics laws and directions for filing complaints or other forms can have an enormous effect on government ethics, either intentionally or negligently, by mischaracterizing ethics laws and procedures.

Take, for example, the directions for filing a complaint in Chula Vista, CA. They aren't exactly directions, but they're on the back of the one-page complaint form, so they will be read as directions.

Update: September 27, 2011
According to Melissa Griffin's column in the Examiner yesterday, the board of supervisors' Government Audit and Oversight Committee met last week to discuss the civil grand jury report discussed below. The results of the committee consideration of the report are included after each relevant section below.

The San Francisco Ethics Commission has been criticized a lot recently. As I wrote in a blog post last year, three whistleblower complaints were filed against it by an employee, the last in 2009; and in 2010, people marched on the EC after the death of an ethics activist who had served successively as a staff member and a commission member.

In addition, through articles and blog posts, Larry Bush has been leading a campaign against the commission, accusing it of rewriting the city's lobbyist law in 2009 so that many major players were exempted from the definition of lobbyist; of stating that it had never found a violation of a particular "pay to play" rule; of destroying evidence of potential official wrongdoing; and more. The EC has chosen not to respond to Bush's accusations.

Now the city's civil grand jury, citizens selected annually to investigate whatever matters they choose relating to the city's governance, has published a report on the EC (attached; see below). It is not a complete audit of EC practices, but rather a selected look. Note that this is civil grand jury, not a criminal grand jury. There have been no criminal allegations against the EC.

On Friday, the Louisville ethics commission found that a council member intentionally violated several ethics provisions. This was its first major action under the city's new ethics code, which I wrote about last year. The EC gave the council member the most serious penalty it can give to a council member, a letter of reprimand and a letter of formal censure. And then it did something unusual: it recommended to the council that it commence proceedings to remove the council member.

It's hard to know where to start with a situation in Crescent City, CA, a town of 7,500 in northern California that has already been the subject of a City Ethics blog post.

One of the most striking things about the situation is that it is the first time I have seen an anti-SLAPP-suit defense used successfully against someone who appears to have been found guilty of an ethics violation in order to stop her criticism of council actions (that is, by SLAPPers against someone they themselves SLAPPed).

Last August, I wrote a blog post about the mayor of Tulsa accepting free legal services from an attorney who represented Tulsa in certain matters, that is, from a city contractor. The matter involved the council possibly filing charges against the mayor for allegedly lying about a federal police grant.

Due to poor language in the ethics code, and some poor interpretation, what is a fairly straightforward gift issue that should have been quickly settled turned into a complex investigation and a questionable report by the city auditor. The auditor's report was released on Thursday, according to an article yesterday in the Tulsa World.

"The appropriate authority" is a vague phrase to base a major ethics reform proposal on, but that is just what the District of Columbia's draft Comprehensive Ethics Reform Act of 2011 does.

Introduced Tuesday by the council chair, this act is neither comprehensive nor does it create the accountability that the name of the new ethics office, the Office of Government Accountability, suggests.