making local government more ethical
It's been over two years since I wrote about the indictments of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his father, and a city contractor. This morning, according to an article in the Detroit Free Press, the jury entered its verdicts. Kilpatrick was convicted on 24 of 30 counts, including five counts of extortion, racketeering, bribery and several mail, wire and tax fraud charges. The contractor was found guilty on nine of 11 counts, including racketeering and several counts of extortion.

A February draft advisory opinion from the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission (attached; see below) raises two different issues. One is the problematic nature of a total gift ban, that is, a ban on all gifts from anyone, accompanied by a whole host of exceptions. The other is the important differences among gifts, campaign contributions, and contributions to an official's legal defense fund.

The draft advisory opinion relates to the solicitation of contributions to the secretary of state's legal defense fund. The defense involves a criminal investigation.

“It’s much to-do about not much. I’m trying to run a city, and you’re worried about people’s relationships?” These are the words of Mount Vernon, NY mayor Ernest Davis, who is the subject of IRS and FBI investigations, and now an investigation by the city's ethics board, according to an article in Wednesday's Journal News.

Dealing responsibly with relationships is what government ethics all about. You can't deal responsibly with them unless you acknowledge them, and worry about them a little.

The arrest of Miami Beach's former procurement director last October may not be news, but there's a lot to be learned from this case. The issues include personal discretion, alternatives to fully competitive bidding, access to information, and debarment rules.

The FBI had to work hard for years to get a grand jury indictment of former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin yesterday (a searchable PDF of the indictment is attached; see below).

A lot of what occurred could have been stopped a long time ago if the city and state had better ethics laws and the city's ethics board was able to initiate complaints and hold public hearings on ethics issues that came to its attention. It appears that every time I read the indictment of a mayor or council member, the misconduct is such that a good ethics program might have prevented it from ever occurring. That's why, unlike many in the good government world, I don't cheer when I see another indictment. I see it as unfortunate. Lives were ruined and the public trust was undermined because simple ethics reforms were not instituted and an ethics commission did not do its job.

When I read about the indictment in an article in yesterday's New Orleans Times-Picayune, the two words that jumped into my mind were "no-bid" and "indirectly." The word "no-bid" appears twice in the article, but "indirectly" does not appear at all. In the indictment, neither word appears. But if the ethics program had dealt with just these two words, all of this would have been dealt with years ago.

Is it enough for a local official to be "not guilty"? This is the question that has been raised with respect to a Tamarac, FL city commissioner who was found not guilty of bribery in December, according to a column by Michael Mayo this week in the Sun-Sentinel.

Soon after she was found not guilty, the governor reinstated her to her position, and next week she will be back on the city commission. However, jurors say they feel she should not go back to the commission. The reasons point to an important difference between criminal and ethics enforcement.