making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler
As serious as the appearance of impropriety that arises from the council member's family firm seeking TIF money and a tax abatement from the city is the fact that any developer or member of a developer's family sitting on a city council faces not just the occasional ethical controversy, as has been the case in this situation. Such an individual faces an ongoing series of possible conflicts, most of which do not lead to complaints, requests for advisory opinions, or controversies.

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Robert Wechsler
The family firm's $100 million development takes this matter beyond ordinary conflicts, due to state and local laws on officials entering into public contracts with their city. What makes this issue far more serious than an ordinary conflict, which can be dealt with responsibly through recusal, is that both state and local law require the official to choose between his government position and an interest in a public contract. It is this far more drastic remedy that has recently escalated...
Robert Wechsler
In determining whether a conflict or preferential treatment might exist, another aspect of benefits, in addition to how definite or direct they are, is their proportionality. Stated in the form of a question, Is the benefit at issue just one of many equivalent benefits to a sizeable group, such as senior citizens or property owners, or is it especially large?

The council member took the position that he and his family firm benefited no more than others who owned or had development...
Robert Wechsler
Indefinite benefits, like indirect benefits, are often not dealt with by ethics codes, and this means that they can cause confusion and controversy. This is one reason I tend to speak in terms of "possible conflicts," because possible conflicts based on indefinite benefits can be just as injurious to the public trust as certain conflicts based on certain benefits.

In the current situation in Cincinnati, it is not certain whether the streetcar project will benefit the council member'...
Robert Wechsler
A government official's relationships -- to family, employer, business -- are very important to determining whether conflicts exist. Both the type and the directness of each relationship are also important.

Here again are the basic facts of the situation in Cincinnati that I will be using to touch on a variety of issues (see the previous blog post for a list of...
Robert Wechsler
There is a situation involving a Cincinnati council member that touches on many important government ethics issues, which I will deal with it in multiple blog posts over the next couple of days. In this post, I will set out the basic facts and the issues.

The council member works for a development company owned by his father and his uncle, but has no ownership interest in the firm. The firm owns or has development rights to nine properties within three blocks of a proposed streetcar...

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