making local government more ethical
Some people incorrectly believe that a conflict of interest requires an official not to vote in such a way as to benefit himself. That is, if the official might benefit from a vote, it's okay for him to vote against it, because that shows that the official is not seeking to benefit himself.

What is odd is to see this position taken by an ethics commission. This is what happened in a June 14 advisory opinion from the Mississippi Ethics Commission. The situation was that six state legislators worked for Medicaid providers. The question was whether they could vote against expansion of Medicaid, pursuant to the new federal program.

According to an article in the Denver Post last week,these are the words of Colorado's Secretary of State after the state ethics commission found him in violation of an ethics provision, on account of using state funds to attend the Republican national convention last year:
"As we said from the start, I've had grave concerns about this tribunal's ability to be fair and objective. Every attempt we made to expose the truth and the facts in the case were met with resistance or rejected outright. Instead of impartial, engaged commissioners, I faced a group of my political adversaries. In fact, two commissioners have donated to my political opponents, and they both unsurprisingly ruled against me."
On April 30, the D.C. ethics board reached a settlement with a council member (attached; see below), whereby he was admonished for having "used the prestige of his office or his public position for the private gain" of a company by influencing health department personnel to leave the site of the business without issuing a notice of closure, allowing the business to continue to operate for several more hours.

Some important issues are raised in this matter, including (1) the line between constituent services and preferential treatment, (2) the appropriateness of a preferential treatment provision, (3) interventions of legislators and their staff in administrative matters; and (4) an ethics board's role in limiting or prohibiting constituent services.

Applicant Disclosure Is Good for Officials
If Ontario or Mississauga required broad applicant disclosure, Mississauga's mayor would not be in court this week arguing that she didn't know that her son had invested in a huge hotel and convention center deal. According to an article yesterday on the 680 News Radio site, she has been alleged to have voted with a conflict, and could be forced to resign as mayor.

The mayor has said in her defense that she didn't read a crucial document containing her son's name, because she didn't have her reading glasses. She has to plead ignorance, something that, of course, she cannot prove. Had her son been required to disclose that his mother was the mayor, she would have been alerted and she could have withdrawn. Had she not withdrawn, there would be no need for a trial.

Appearances are very important in government ethics. A situation that has arisen with respect to a proposed state audit of the Palm Beach County ethics commission has created serious appearance problems.

Yes, another New York state legislator has been arrested on bribery charges. That's scarcely news. According to an article in today's New York Times, he was helping developers get permits to open adult day care centers in his district. In other words, he was doing local constituency work as a state legislator, using his influence rather than his votes.

But that's not all. What makes this bribery case unusually egregious is his introduction of a bill to place a moratorium on the construction of competing day care centers. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York referred to the legislator's bill as “an especially breathtaking bit of corruption, even by Albany standards.”