making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler
I was reminded today that Sen. Arlen Specter, who recently switched from the Republican party to the Democratic party, voted against Elena Kagan's appointment as solicitor-general. He now appears likely to support her appointment to the Supreme Court. This raised the issue in my mind:  is it ever right for an elected official to vote on an appointment on purely partisan grounds?

Not surprisingly, the same issue arose this week at the local level, in North Greenbush, New York, a town...
Robert Wechsler
Last September, I wrote a blog post about an ethics initiative in Palm Beach County, Florida. A response to numerous scandals, it featured an ethics pledge, primarily for government officials, and a successful attempt to get an independent ethics commission and inspector general for the county government. I felt that the business leaders in Palm Beach County who led the...
Robert Wechsler
When it comes to ethics fines, it's hard to satisfy anyone. Fines are usually too large or too small, depending on whom you ask. No one likes to be punished, and no one likes the guilty to get off easy. So what is an ethics commission to do?

This week there have been two newspaper articles featuring opposite ends of the fine spectrum.

Few Fines in California
Robert Wechsler
Back in January, I wrote about the California Supreme Court's decision in a criminal conflict of interest prosecution against members of a San Diego pension board. In that post, I wrote about how to solve the problem that led to the case's dismissal: local government employees being considered a class (like businesspeople or senior citizens) that is excepted from the...
Robert Wechsler
Update: May 12, 2010 (see below)

According to an article in Tuesday's Sun-Sentinel, Broward County (FL) Commissioner Ilene Lieberman feels that the ethics code written by a special commission on ethics (most of whose members...
Robert Wechsler
Failure to disclose or to recuse oneself, even when it is not legally required, can lead to some big headaches, as can be seen in Portland, OR, where a city commissioner voted on a grant to a non-profit organization where his girlfriend works. Also interesting in this case is the commissioner's use of personal ethics rather than professional, government ethics in making his judgment calls.

According to...