making local government more ethical
According to an article in yesterday's New York Times, it is coming out that more teachers and school administrators have been involved in cheating on the test scores that may not only give them bonuses, but may determine whether their schools continue to exist. One can argue ad infinitum about the pressures, temptations, and morals involved. But one thing is certain: the problems were not created by the teachers and administrators.

The government cheating on pension funds, according to today's New York Times, is very different. New York State elected officials have tentatively agreed to allow the state and its municipalities, with the exception of New York City, to borrow from the state pension fund (which also covers municipalities) in order to make payments into the fund.

I am conducting a national research study on government ethics programs with a focus on training. This research is being done in connection with the Ethics Center of the University of North Florida. Cities across the U.S. are being studied as to their ethics program structure, training requirements and training methods.

Misinformation is rampant in local government ethics. And the less people understand it, the easier it is for the misinformation to be taken at face value.

According to an article in yesterday's Dispatch, in Columbus, a city of 24,000 in eastern Mississippi, one council member's response to a fist fight between the mayor and another council member was to propose an ethics code so that officials would treat each other and the public with respect.

Last September, I wrote a blog post about an ethics initiative in Palm Beach County, Florida. A response to numerous scandals, it featured an ethics pledge, primarily for government officials, and a successful attempt to get an independent ethics commission and inspector general for the county government. I felt that the business leaders in Palm Beach County who led the initiative had a good understanding of government ethics, and took a fresh, effective approach.

I cannot say the same thing about a copycat initiative in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, the home of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, called Ethics Awareness. Its ethics initiative, led by a business group and an ethics institute at Misericordia University, is also a response to numerous scandals (see my blog post on the most infamous one), but it lacks the focus of the Palm Beach initiative.

It would be easy to say that politics is a team sport, like football, while ethics is an individual sport, like tennis. But this simply isn't true. Both ethical behavior and unethical behavior can be done as a team.

Pennsylvanians have, for some time, been entertained with a scandal called Bonusgate, which involves state legislative staff not only being used for campaigns, but getting bonuses, which makes a common practice appear even uglier. The ugliness has recently increased in intensity:  defense counsel for two of the legislators is accusing the attorney general (who instituted the criminal actions) of doing the very same thing, without the bonuses. And the attorney general, of a different political party than the great majority of the accused legislators, is running for governor. Could a screenwriter come up with a better plot to undermine citizens' trust in those who represent them?

The elephant in the room is the fact that most elected officials use their staff in their campaigns, and often loan them out to others', as well. The way to deal with conduct this common is not to prosecute it (especially when it is politically convenient). The best way, I think, is to recognize that this conduct is here to stay, and then regulate it.

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