making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler
Gray areas in local government ethics don't necessarily have to be gray areas.

According to an article last week in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a council member whose brother is a lieutenant in the city jail has been very vocal in opposing a plan to lease the jail to the county in which Atlanta sits. It is possible that the council member's brother would lose his job if...
Robert Wechsler
Pennsylvanians have, for some time, been entertained with a scandal called Bonusgate, which involves state legislative staff not only being used for campaigns, but getting bonuses, which makes a common practice appear even uglier. The ugliness has recently increased in intensity:  defense counsel for two of the legislators is accusing the attorney general (who instituted the criminal actions) of doing the very same thing, without the bonuses. And the attorney general, of a different political...
Robert Wechsler
Officials soliciting charitable contributions from those doing business before them is unethical conduct too many ethics codes allow, often expressly. Miami-Dade County has in its ethics code what appears at first to be a very reasonable exception to the definition of a gift:
    §2-11.1(2)(2)(g) Gifts solicited by Commissioners on behalf of any nonprofit organization for use solely by that organization where neither the Commissioner nor his or her staff receives any compensation as a...
Robert Wechsler
Back in Chicago, where in February the mayor called for the inspector general (appointed by the mayor) to have jurisdiction over the city council (see my blog post), the council is now moving toward a council-wide vote on its own inspector general.

In my blog post, I suggested that one IG be appointed by an independent ethics board, itself to...
Robert Wechsler

In the hands of politicians, government ethics can be wielded as a double-edged sword, as can be seen in recent events in Mandeville (LA), a city of 12,000 just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans.

According to an article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, in October 2009 the city's mayor pleaded guilty "to defrauding his constituents by accepting...
Robert Wechsler
Local governments accepting gifts from those who do business with them — contractors, developers, and the like — can cause some serious problems, even when they have to be approved by neutral bodies. This can be seen by what has happened in Middletown, CT, a small city not far from where I live.

According to an article in the Middletown Press, a car...