making local government more ethical
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 officials, a member of the Kingston Community Preservation Committee (CPC) participated in the making of a grant to a nonprofit organization for which she was the unpaid president. The grant was for the renovation of two boat sheds on the nonprofit's property, a river landing.

A February draft advisory opinion from the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (attached; see below) raises two different issues. One is the problematic nature of a total gift ban, that is, a ban on all gifts from anyone, accompanied by a whole host of exceptions. The other is the important differences among gifts, campaign contributions, and contributions to an official's legal defense fund.

The draft advisory opinion relates to the solicitation of contributions to the secretary of state's legal defense fund. The defense involves a criminal investigation.

What is the best way to prevent high-level officials from participating in matters involving departments or agencies where their close family members are employed, without doing this unreasonably, that is, excluding situations where the family members have no influence and will receive no benefits?

This is the question that has been raised in Baltimore by council members, particularly the council president who, according to an article in yesterday's Baltimore Sun, says he "abstains from about 20 percent of votes before the Board of Estimates, the city's spending panel, because he has four family members who work in city government:  a daughter who is a teacher in the city's Head Start program; a brother who is a laborer working for the Department of Public Works; a sister who works as a customer service representative in the Mayor's Office of Information Technology; and a brother who works in human resources in the city housing department."

[Note: I have made changes throughout this blog post, based on a February 25 e-mail message from the COG executive director]

It should feel good when a pet idea of yours becomes a reality. My pet idea is the regional ethics program, whose biggest successes have been of the countywide variety, such as Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County, FL (there is also a Broward County program, but it is run by an inspector general). There are a few regional ethics commissions in Kentucky, and one in Northwest Indiana, but they don't really have ethics programs.

I'm sad to say that I do not feel good about the creation of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments Regional Ethics Commission.

One good thing about it is that it was formed in a different manner than the others. It was formed by a council of governments (COG), which is the body by which local governments in Connecticut cooperate in such areas as conservation, development, transportation, and emergency management. The COG in southeastern CT consists of 20 cities, towns, and boroughs, with a total population of around 250,000. No county is involved, because Connecticut has no county governments.

Some very interesting issues arise out of a past (and present) conflict situation that has become an issue in this week's mayoral primary in the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, KS ("UG").

The conflict situation appears simple at first glance, but it is not. In 2007, a UG commissioner became the paid executive director of the Argentine Neighborhood Development Association ("ANDA"), a nonprofit Community Development Corporation and Community Housing Development Organization that has received funds from the UG. The executive director was paid, at least partially, out of those funds.

The first opinion of the District of Columbia's Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (a searchable copy is attached; see below) raises some interesting questions relating to enforcing unenforceable ethics provisions, vagueness, and publishing evidence and an opinion about a case that is being dismissed before an investigation has been conducted. The opinion also shows that the new ethics board has a long way to go up the learning curve of government ethics.