making local government more ethical
Although citizen participation is not part of government ethics, it's important to keep reminding ourselves that it is central to government ethics, because it is a principal goal of government ethics programs.

Officials' ethical misconduct undermines citizen trust and participation, but there are also other obstacles that get in the way. One of these is the lack of opportunity to express opinions in public forums at a time when input can make a difference. This post will look at this sort of citizen participation and how to overcome obstacles to it, and then look at a consultant's deeper examination of the issue.

Sometimes Withdrawal and Formal Processes Are Not Enough
It never looks good when a high-level elected official gets a job with the government while in office or soon after leaving office. It looks like he got the job because of his influence and relationships with those who made the decision.

According to an article in the Observer-Reporter, the North Strabane Township (PA) solicitor was shocked that anyone questioned the chair of the board of supervisors being hired as a department head. “He went through the same process as the other candidates. He was completely shielded and excluded like the other candidates. Once he announced he was interested in the position, we excluded him from anything to do with the parks position.”

Mike DeBonis's article in the Washington Post last week describes an operatic ethics matter, with several twists and complications, with dramatic cries of innocence mixed with scathing accusations of guilt. The article is certainly more exciting than this blog post, which focuses on issues raised by the the Notice of Violation, dated February 6, (attached; see below). I hope the post will, at least, be enlightening.

Here are the basic facts, as stated in the Notice of Violation. In 2006, D.C.'s chief administrative law judge entered into a business relationship with a woman to purchase investment properties in the D.C. area. Both principals put money into the enterprise over a period of years. In 2010, the judge hired her business partner as the general counsel of her government office, "without posting/advertising the position or interviewing anyone else for the position."

What role does humor play in a government ethics program? It looks like this is the principal issue in a Broome County, NY ethics case. According to an article put up yesterday afternoon on the Gannett Pressconnects website, the chair of the opposing party's county committee has written a letter to the county ethics board regarding the county executive wearing a sheriff's office uniform to the county sheriff's campaign event (the sheriff was not wearing his uniform, because he is not allowed to for campaign purposes).

The complainant insists that this constitutes the "use of public property for a blatantly partisan political event." The sheriffs association said the county executive didn't impersonate an officer because there was no intent to imply the exercise of police authority. Translation: it was done in fun.

This is the last of four blog posts on Florida Senate Bill 606 (attached; see below), one of the worst ethics reform bills I have ever read.

The Florida League of Cities was deeply involved in drafting these supposed ethics reforms, which I criticize in my last three blog posts. The question needs to be asked:  Was the League acting for its members as officials representing the public interest or as individuals with personal interests that might conflict with their obligations to their constituents?

Some jurisdictions have an ethics provision entitled Prestige of Office that, among other things, limits work that officials can do outside of government. Here is the language that the Baltimore school district uses (this is essentially the same as the city government's Prestige of Office provision, but with the addition of the phrase "public position," which turns it into a basic misuse of office provision):
An official may not intentionally use the prestige of office or public position for the private gain of that official or the private gain of another.
It's certainly a conflict of interest problem when prestige of office is used to make money through public speaking or advertising ("The Pickup Your Mayor Prefers!"). But these situations can be handled by honararium and endorsement provisions. When a Prestige of Office provision is applied to related work done on the side, as it has been in the Baltimore school district, the issue is moonlighting.

I don't think that ethics programs should regulate moonlighting. I think this is a personnel matter. It is a resource issue more than it is a conflict of interest issue. Permission be sought from the superintendent or a designee. Perhaps, for aggregate annual work over a certain number of hours or certain amount of income, school board permission should be sought. In any event, it's worth looking at how a Baltimore prestige of office matter was handled.