making local government more ethical
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, 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.

Toward the end of a video of the November 4 meeting of the Florida Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, the committee vice-chair says that the testimony he heard was very "troubling." I felt the same way about the meeting as a whole, but for completely different reasons. What occurred at this meeting is as troubling as anything I have seen in seven years of following local government ethics matters nationwide.

From about 20 minutes into the video, the meeting is supposed to be focused on the audit report on the Palm Beach County EC, which I wrote about yesterday. A member of the office drafting the report summarized the report, and then the executive director of the EC effectively summarized the EC's response to the report. The responsible thing for the committee to do was to discuss the report's conclusions and the EC's acceptance and questioning of the report's recommendations. No such discussion occurred.

Two more people spoke, both of them lawyers representing clients who had been respondents in proceedings before the Palm Beach County EC. No one was asked to respond to what they said, and very few questions were directed to the speakers.

Six years ago, I wrote a blog post on apology (including full disclosure) in the medical context. Today's New York Times' "Invitation to a Dialogue" letter from a hospital executive takes this issue a step further to a consideration of the value of individual punishment vs. institutional change. The lesson he provides is one that is important to government ethics, as well.