making local government more ethical
This week, a citizen in the village of Niles, IL (pop. 30,000) made a proposal for applicant disclosure, something every ethics program should have, but most do not. According to an article in yesterday's Niles Herald-Spectator, the proposal "would ask if the applicant’s officers, directors or partners are related by blood or marriage or reside in the same residence as any Niles elected official, appointed official [or] village employee. It would also require the applicant to disclose information regarding political contributions to any such elected official, appointed official or Niles employee" over the past five years.

I have written about the need for ethics commissions to go beyond the criminal enforcement paradigm, which limits commissions to determining whether an individual respondent has violated an ethics provision or not. It is hard to find instances of a commission looking at the bigger picture, that is, at the common practices and unwritten rules that underlie an individual's ethical misconduct. I read about such an instance in the New York Times yesterday.

The commission is the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The commission's report on Judge Luis Gonzalez, dated March 30, dismisses three of four charges against the judge. As for the fourth charge, regarding nepotism in hiring, the commission goes beyond the judge's conduct to look at common practices among judges with respect to hiring for administrative positions.

It's amazing the lengths people will go to when they are accused of bribery. Take Zehy Jereis, a former Yonkers, NY party chair who gave nearly $175,000 to a Yonkers council member, and is being accused of doing this in order to get her to make a pivotal vote in favor of his client's controversial mall, according to an article in yesterday's New York Times.

He says it had nothing to do with the mall. It was love. Unrequited love. Not only did he give the council member all sorts of gifts, but he lost 150 pounds for her, got his teeth and hair fixed for her, and helped pay her brother's high school tuition.

Proximity rules are common to local and state government ethics codes nationwide (see my blog post on them from five years ago). They require officials to withdraw from any matter dealing with property within a certain distance of property they own or rent, no matter how many others have property within the same proximity.

According to a big exposé piece in yesterday's Washington Post, "Congressional representatives are required to certify that they do not have a financial stake in the actions they take." But the rules they have written to apply to themselves do not address proximity. The issue is not proximity, but the process by which proximity was not addressed.

On Friday, the Louisville ethics commission found that a council member intentionally violated several ethics provisions. This was its first major action under the city's new ethics code, which I wrote about last year. The EC gave the council member the most serious penalty it can give to a council member, a letter of reprimand and a letter of formal censure. And then it did something unusual: it recommended to the council that it commence proceedings to remove the council member.

In March, I wrote a blog post about a nepotism situation in Valparaiso, IN. The city's ethics commission found that the hiring of the fire chief's son would be in violation of the ethics code, because the chief would be directly involved in personnel matters involving his son.

According to an NWI Times article, the council and the city attorney quickly did what they could to allow the chief to stay in place. The city attorney drafted an amendment that would allow any department that had a recusal rule for such situations to be excepted from the nepotism provision. He argued that because the uniformed departments had paramilitary-like structures that insulate top officials from direct supervision over personnel, nepotism is not so great a problem for them. He acknowledged that any department that employed such a structure, including recusal, could also be excepted from the nepotism provision.