making local government more ethical

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Waivers

Robert Wechsler
I am a proponent of ethics waivers. But only if they are provided by an independent ethics commission. When they are provided by high-level officials or their appointees, they appear to be self-serving. Why self-serving? Because they create precedents that will enable those who make the precedents to themselves get ethics waivers.

Westchester County, NY has an ethics waiver process that allows the county legislative body to provide waivers. According to...
Robert Wechsler
What can a local official do when he is required to withdraw from a matter that involves a close personal friend who's in hot water due to that official's feud with another official? What do you do when you're caught between a rock and a hard place? The district attorney of Putnam County, NY is faced with this odd and difficult mix of personal and public obligations, at least if what he is saying is true.

According to...
Robert Wechsler
There are two ways to write a nepotism provision. One is to have a short, straightforward prohibition, and allow requests for a waiver under special circumstances. The most frequent circumstance would be a small town or school system where there are not a lot of prospective employees to choose from.

The other way is the one chosen by Louisiana:  three pages of exceptions from the general rule (attached; see below).

There are two ways to define "family" in terms of a...
Robert Wechsler
One kind of revolving door that is often ignored is the move from elected or appointed board or commission membership and a paid position that is approved by and under the direction of the same board or commission. It makes it look as if the board member were using her position to get herself a nice job, and exclude others. It also puts the board members in the conflicted position of overseeing a former colleague, who might very well be seen to have made a deal with them that would give them...
Robert Wechsler
Update: June 20, 2012 (see below)

The saying goes that there are two sides to every story. But more commonly there is a story and ways to spin the story. The problem is telling them apart.

This week, a Daily Oklahoman editorial took to task the state ethics commission, which has jurisdiction over local officials. The editorial's first...
Robert Wechsler
Here are three cases from New York City that involve relations between superiors and subordinates, one of the most important aspects of local government ethics. What is especially interesting is that two of these cases involve co-opting, in one case of subordinates, in the other of vendors. These cases were included in COGEL's ethics update last week.

Co-opting Subordinates
The...

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