making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler
An excellent editorial yesterday by Dan Barton, editor of the Kingston (NY) Times, raises a few important issues relating to local government ethics proceedings.

According to Barton, Kingston's new ethics board dismissed a complaint from a city alderman that the mayor had violated the ethics code by hiring as an attorney for the city's local development corporation a lawyer with...
Robert Wechsler
According to an article last week in the Washington Post, the Fairfax County (VA) Attorney fired one of his office's assistant attorneys because she was elected to the council of a city within the county, even though he and his deputy who deals with personnel matters had given her permission to run for office. In a letter sent after...
Robert Wechsler
Many people believe that conflicts of interest are limited to situations where money is involved. When these people write ethics laws, as they often do, the law effectively says that where money isn't involved, any conduct is acceptable.

For example, Pennsylvania's ethics code, which applies to local officials, defines "conflict of interest" as follows (emphasis added):
Use by a public official or public employee of the authority of his office or employment or any...
Robert Wechsler
There is nothing more natural and, in most circumstances, ethical than a mother doing her best to help her son when he is in trouble. And yet, in most jurisdictions, there are multiple government ethics laws that prohibit this very conduct when the mother is a government official. This is as good an example as there is of the fact that government ethics is not about ethical conduct in general, but rather about government fiduciaries dealing responsibly with their conflicts of interest.
Robert Wechsler
A conflict situation in my state of Connecticut is instructive regarding a basic concept of government ethics, as well as a basic concept of legislative immunity.

Legislators insist that they require immunity because their motives in making decisions cannot be questioned outside their body. Government ethics, on the other hand, does not consider motive, only conduct and relationships. This is one of the principal reasons why I argue that legislative immunity does not protect...
Robert Wechsler
As we know, the devil's in the details. In government ethics codes, this means the language. In the case I will look at here, the devil's in the verbs.

According to an article on the WTSP-TV website last week, a Florida state senator who lobbies for a sports team seeking taxpayer subsidies relating to payments on its sports arena...