making local government more ethical
Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel, the authors of the new book Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It (Princeton University Press), point out that egocentrism is in our nature. We naturally see the world from our point of view. We squeeze what we see and experience into our view of ourselves. We never get too far away from the baby's concept that the world exists for us, even if no longer for us alone.

Egocentrism (what they call the "egocentric bias") is at the heart of unethical behavior, in the government ethics sense. When the public interest conflicts with an offical's self-interest, that self-interest is what leads the official to deal irresponsibly with the conflict. It is the official's self-serving judgments that lead him to different conclusions than others have regarding what is a fair solution to a conflict situation.

Update: March 19, 2011 (see below)

Last December I wrote a long blog post about the pay-to-play culture of Prince George's County, Maryland. The new county executive and the county's state representatives appear to have been working hard to make changes to end this pay-to-play culture, although you wouldn't know it from the new county executive's transition report, which came out last week. The report focuses on development, and makes no mention of the county's pay-to-play culture.

On February 11, three bills (HB 1076, HB 993, HB 1103) were introduced to the Maryland House that would make extensive ethics changes. The bills would deal with the moribund ethics program by providing the county ethics board with an executive director, and also providing an ethics advisor. They would require the ethics board to meet twice a year, which is insufficient if it is going to be a force in the county and if there is going to be a true ethics program.

Conning Citizens
Car towing is one of the biggest temptations in local government. A police officer goes to the scene of an accident, and one or more drivers needs to have their cars towed. The drivers are injured or at least in shock, and rarely thinking straight. The officer has been offered so many dollars per car that he steers to a towing company or a bodywork shop with a tow truck. No one will know and no one will be hurt. It might be called a kickback, but it's no more than doing a service for the towing company, a way of moonlighting on the job. At least that's what the officer tells himself.

Despite the many differences between corporate and government ethics, sometimes the corporate ethics world has a lot to teach the government ethics world, especially considering that corporate ethics has a zillion times the personnel and budget to work with.

One example of this appears in a Harvard Business Review blog post yesterday by Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School professor. The post focuses on what ways work in affecting ethics in the workplace, based on studies Gino has done. Since this is an important issue in the government workplace as well, this post is worth a look.

Update: August 26, 2011 (see below)

At the same time there is talk of local government ethics reform in New York State, the new attorney general has his own plan for local government oversight. But it is all criminal in nature.

His idea is to place public integrity officers in all thirteen attorney general offices in the state, starting with Rochester. The new attorney general's predecessor, now the governor, founded the Public Integrity Bureau in 2007, with a mandate to investigate corruption, fraud, and abuse of authority.

You can learn something from every local government ethics code there is, and especially from codes that have only been proposed. Today I'm going to look at a proposed ethics code for Glen Ellyn, IL, a western suburb of Chicago (pop. 27,000). The proposed code and resolution are attached; see below.