making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler

One of the most serious obstacles to ethics training is cynicism. For example, a councilman in South Lake Tahoe, California said, according to a recent article in the Tahoe Daily Tribune, that the California requirement of ethics training for all municipal officials is an indication of a breakdown in trust in local government and "It's not going to change behavior. [It] creates a job for someone."

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Robert Wechsler

How can an ethics commission be truly independent?

In the model code I wrote as the beginning of what I hope will be a long public conversation about all aspects of municipal ethics, I suggest that a municipality's legislative body appoint members from a list given to them by the local League of Women Voters.

I did not mean to prefer this particular organization, but to get people thinking (and talking) about the possibility of having an independent,...

Robert Wechsler

When an ethics commission is appointed by the city's principal officials, can it possibly clear the air with respect to allegations against them? Baltimore's Board of Ethics has five members, four of them appointed by the mayor, three of those confirmed by the Council, and the fifth member appointed by the city solicitor, who is in turn a mayoral appointee.

According to...

Robert Wechsler

There's a lot of talk about organizational culture and the effect it can have on individuals' unethical conduct, but it's rare to find reported instances of poor organizational cultures that aren't extreme, such as Chicago. Even Enron had an excellent ethics program, and its misconduct appears to have been limited to high-level management.

The U.S. Department of the Interior seems to be an excellent example of a terrible organizational culture, at least according to its Inspector...

Robert Wechsler

Philadelphia's Committee of Seventy may be a little gray (it recently celebrated its 100th birthday), but in its 'reborn' form (it had taken the limited role of monitoring election activities) it still knows how to take a stand and make a difference. It has made ethics a central issue of the upcoming mayoral election by putting together a four-page Ethics Agenda and asking all mayoral candidates to commit to its ethics reforms,...

Robert Wechsler

One thing that's good about local government is that so much of it is done by volunteers. Volunteers aren't professional politicians. They have something better to do with their time.

Yes, most of them do. But for many, government service is central to what they do with the great bulk of their time.

An article in the Alamogordo, New Mexico Daily News (12/27/06) focuses on the most basic and, apparently,...

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