making local government more ethical
Tallahassee takes a compliance approach to ethics. Its ethics code is aspirational, based on core values. Its ethics training employs a Character First approach. Conflicts of interest are only a small portion of a program that ranges from personnel and transparency issues to harassment, discrimination, and fraud.

This is not the sort of ethics program usually discussed in this blog, because it is not what is traditionally referred to as "government ethics." But since the city government calls it an ethics program, it is important to look at what it is and how it differs from a traditional program.

Update: January 4, 2010 (see below)

On December 15, Chicago published a Compliance and Integrity Survey that its Office of Compliance commissioned from the Ethics Resource Center, a primarily corporate ethics and compliance research organization.

Here are some of the principal findings of the survey. Comparisons are to the local government portion (pages 31-35) of the ERC's 2007 National Workplace Ethics Survey

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).