making local government more ethical

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Ethics Codes

Robert Wechsler
A colleague asked me recently about the argument that withdrawal from participation by a legislator, who cannot delegate to someone else, "disenfranchises" that legislator's constituents. Since disenfranchisement is a terrible thing, the argument goes, legislators cannot be asked to withdraw from participation, but only to disclose their conflicts.

I have not sufficiently countered this argument here in my blog or in...
Robert Wechsler
Conflicts of interest are not always positive, any more than relationships are always positive. And conflicts are based on relationships.

We tend to think of an official using his position to help a family member or business associate. But sometimes officials use their position to harm someone with whom they have a negative relationship, anyone from a former in-law (the bum who dumped my sister) or current in-law (that woman who's driving my brother crazy) to a former business...
Robert Wechsler
It is unethical for a local official to violate a law, especially the city or county charter. But such a violation is usually not a government ethics violation, because it has nothing to do with conflicts of interest. It may be a misuse of office, but it is not a misuse of office to benefit oneself, one's family, or one's business associates.

And yet some ethics codes contain a provision making a legal or charter violation an ethics violation. Here is one from Forest Park, GA, a...
Robert Wechsler
In my book Local Government Ethics Programs, I have argued for the language of "benefit" instead of the language of "interest." (for some of the reasons why, click here and search for "terminology"). When a colleague asked me for a list of the jurisdictions that do, in fact, use the language of "benefit," I did some eye-opening research. Here are the results, based on the ethics codes in...
Robert Wechsler
Court decisions, especially when combined with criminal enforcement of ethics violations, can be very harmful to local government ethics. The court in a Monterey County case involving a serious §1090 conflict of interest matter that officials were not only aware of, but appear to have helped create, has used two recent California court decisions to limit prosecution to...
Robert Wechsler
Yesterday's blog post discussed the law giving California's Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) authority over §1090 of the state code, which deals with contract-related conflicts of interest and applies to both local and state officials. Knowing little about this section, which stands outside the state's ethics code (known as the Political Reform Act), I did a...

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