making local government more ethical
In three cities this week, top officials showed the ability to get away with unethical behavior, but not the ability to distinguish law from ethics.

In a recent blog post, I listed the suits filed by Maricopa County's sheriff Joe Arpaio and county attorney Andrew Thomas against other county officials during the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws conference right in the heart of Maricopa County.

Well, it got worse. On the last day of the conference, according to an article in the Arizona Republic, the county attorney filed criminal charges against a district court judge, accusing him of hindering prosecution, obstructing a criminal investigation, and bribery.

I talk a lot about the importance of independent ethics commissions. But independence is not always a good thing for local government boards and commissions. Independence without oversight, transparency, and independent ethics enforcement easily turns into someone's fiefdom.

According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, Detroit's two pension boards (uniformed and general) have apparently turned into the fiefdom of their long-time counsel, Ronald Zajac. He helped them break away from city oversight, and has kept them fiercely independent ever since.

What do clean water laws have to do with government ethics laws? According to an article in today's New York Times, there are three connections. One, the water in Scottsdale, AZ, where government ethics professionals just congregated for a conference, has high amounts of arsenic in it.

Two, both laws provide minumum standards, and most people don't understand or accept this fact (see my blog post on this topic as it applies to ethics laws).

The relationship between San Diego's council and ethics commission continues to prove unhealthy. It shows how wrong it is for elected officials to appoint and control the body that oversees their conduct.

COGEL (Council on Governmental Ethics Laws) annual conferences are often held at a time and place where there are serious government ethics issues. Last year, the conference was held in Chicago the day Gov. Blagojevich was arrested. This year, the conference was held in Maricopa County, AZ, where few days go by when there isn't a serious government ethics issue. Maricopa County has got to be the most dysfunctional county in the U.S.

According to an article in the Arizona Republic, in a little more than a week, county sheriff Joe Arpaio and his loyal sidekick, county attorney Andrew Thomas, filed three suits against a large number of other county officials.