making local government more ethical

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Ethics Commissions/Administration

Robert Wechsler
The long-running Carrigan case (Carrigan I, that is) may have finally come to an end. And it's a very good end. After the U.S. Supreme Court threw out Carrigan's absurd argument that a council member has a First Amendment free speech right to vote on legislative matters where he is conflicted, the Nevada Supreme Court concluded that, if a council member chooses not to seek ethics advice and votes on a matter involving someone with whom he has a special relationship, he cannot say...
Robert Wechsler
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, "...
Robert Wechsler
It should be heartening to announce that the head of an important good government organization has been appointed to the North Carolina Ethics Commission. But sadly, it is not.

Francis X. De Luca is the president of the Civitas Institute, which has taken strong stands for improving North Carolina's state ethics program. He is, therefore, someone who should understand government ethics and act to improve the program from...
Robert Wechsler
Many people think that lawyers make the best ethics commission members. In fact, many ethics codes require that at least some members of an ethics commission be lawyers.

However, lawyers are the individuals most likely to have relationships and obligations that conflict with the obligations they have as EC members. For example, they often have relationships with elected officials, who are often lawyers themselves, as well as with clients who seek special benefits from the local...
Robert Wechsler
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...
Robert Wechsler
Ethics commissions are often stuck with one or more ethics provisions that they are know are, in some ways, irresponsible. They can recommend amendments to the provisions, but the legislative body is free to ignore such recommendations.

If this happens, an EC is not always powerless. It can often promulgate a regulation that can interpret the language in a provision, or provide exemptions, so that the provision is more responsible. The Massachusetts EC, which has jurisdiction over...

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