making local government more ethical
A recent Miami Herald article describes a case that embodies a number of important government ethics issues, including the conflict issues that involve local schools of higher education, gifts to officials' relatives and the officials' knowledge of them, an ethics program's jurisdiction over these relatives, and whether government attorneys should provide ethics advice about past conduct.

The article reports on the ways in which a fast-expanding for-profit medical college has apparently been involved with elected officials and their families. The article says that the college's founder has made over $170,000 in campaign contributions, it has hired a member of the state legislature as an attorney, and it has provided free tuition to that legislator's sister-in-law.

That same legislator sponsored legislation that loosened the accreditation requirements for physical therapy assistant programs which, among other things, allowed the college to rapidly expand its program to five different campuses. The legislation was tacked on to an unrelated piece of legislation just before it was voted on, and "could ultimately boost Dade Medical’s revenues by millions of dollars."

New York State's Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption filed a preliminary report on Monday. Most of the report involves state campaign finance and election laws, but many of these laws affect local government practices, as well. Those involving government ethics criminalize it, and an important recommendation is both too much and too little.

An editorial in yesterday's New Orleans Times-Picayune points out a problem that is common to many ethics programs that have jurisdiction over both conflicts of interest and campaign finance:  campaign finance sucks up the program's resources, leaving too few resources for other things, including the collection of the fines they impose.

The editorial begins, "Louisiana's Ethics Board staff spends an inordinate amount of time processing campaign finance and disclosure filings and documenting reports that come in late or not at all. Meanwhile, candidates who accept improper contributions or violate other campaign rules often face no consequences because no one gets around to checking up on them."

Now that Tallahassee's mayor has opposed all of the recommendations from a special ethics advisory panel (attached; see below), according to an article last week in the Tallahassee Democrat, it's about time to look at those recommendations and what, it appears, is going to happen to them.

"Frivolous" is a word that, I believe, has no place in a government ethics program. A look at an attempt to add it to Kenosha's ethics program shows how, well, frivolous the word is.

According to an article in this Sunday's Kenosha (WI) News, a proposed ethics code amendment before the Kenosha council would make it so that a person who files an ethics complaint that "is dismissed in total" by the city’s ethics board would be responsible for paying the legal and administrative fees of the board and of the respondent.

One alderman who supports the amendment is quoted as saying, “What we want to do is amend this to deter frivolous complaints but at the same time not deter individuals with legitimate issues with a particular individual.”

In early 2009, I started out a blog post, "Type 'ethics' into the search line at utah.gov, and all that comes up is Archery Ethics Course Online." That is no longer true. In fact, the state legislature not only has an ethics commission, it even passed a local ethics commission act. And in response to that act, some Utah municipalities have set up ethics commissions or hearing officers, and one group in Davis County is even at work on a creative approach to a regional ethics program, something I have advocated as a way to provide both independence and professionalism at a reasonable price.

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