making local government more ethical
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.

I'm back from the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL) conference, and I will be sharing some valuable information from the talks and panels I attended.

In a panel on gifts provisions in ethics codes, the panel consisted not only of the usual government ethics professionals, but also a lawyer who advises and defends lobbyists and those who do business with governments. One difference in their perspectives stood out.

It's been a year since the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL), the association of state and local government ethics professionals, met in Cook County, IL. But the day before COGEL meets in Scottdale, AZ, it's time to take another look at one of America's most unethical counties, which includes Chicago.

This time the focus is on the county's townships. The problem is summed up professionally in the abstract to a paper published last year. It's called Township Government: Essential or Expendable? The Case of Illinois and Cook County and it's by David Hamilton of the Roosevelt University Institute of Metropolitan Affairs Regionalism Project. The paper was given at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference in April 2008.