making local government more ethical
Sometimes concepts derived from one area of study, for one purpose, can be valuable in another area of study, for another purpose. This is true of the concepts of "injunctive norm" and "descriptive norm" derived by social psychology professor Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University for use in the area of persuading people not to do certain things, such as litter.

The recent arrest of the Prince George's County (MD) executive and his wife, who is a new member of the county council, shows how wrong it is to give the county executive and individual council members power over development projects, a topic I've written about with respect to Dallas and Chicago.

What can local government ethics professionals learn from what has come out in the recent indictments of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father, the city's director of water and sewerage, Kilpatrick's CAO and CIO, and a city contractor?

I recently read a book by Stanley Cavell called Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life (2004). Despite its title, it is not about cities; in fact, much of the book uses movies to discuss this Harvard professor's ethical philosophy. What is relevant about this book to government ethics is Cavell's idea of "moral perfectionism," which isn't about being perfect, but about constantly seeking improvement in how one thinks and acts. Most important to Cavell is making oneself intelligible to oneself and to others through "moral conversation" with "friends."

A Municipal Bid Rigging Scheme Comes to Light
According to an article in the New York Times this week, Banc of America Securities (which recently merged with Merrill Lynch) agreed to pay the SEC and others $137 million to settle charges related to a municipal bond bid-rigging scheme. For those who think competitive bidding rules are enough, this case should make you think otherwise.

I find it fascinating that, although kickbacks (also known as "thanks giving") are one of the central elements of unethical conduct in local governments, I have only mentioned them three times in my blog posts.

Kickbacks are a dirty secret for one principal reason:  they are difficult to prove. Along with bribes, they require hard-to-obtain proof to tie money to conduct. Coincidentally, these are the two forms of conduct that the Supreme Court, in Skilling v. U.S., said the federal honest services fraud statute could be applied to (see my blog post on this decision).