making local government more ethical
All stories and pages related to the Model Code Project
I'd like to follow up on what I said at the end of yesterday's blog entry, about jurisdictions that make ethics violations criminal and require a showing of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and a showing of intentionality or recklessness or negligence. Here is the penalty provision in the Arizona Conduct of Office chapter, which applies equally to local governments (to see the entire chapter, click here and scroll down to Chapter 3):
Local election officials have been put in a bind since the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed by Congress in 2002. Federal and state requirements limit their control over voting processes, and there have been many problems with the companies that provide voting equipment and services. Besides the pains of dealing with these companies from a position of weakness, the biggest problem is accountability and confidence in the voting process. A Zogby poll done in August 2006 found that over 2.5 million non-registered citizens do not bother to register to vote because they do not trust the vote-counting processes and procedures.

Voters Unite has just published a study examining these problems, and showing how some local governments have successfully dealt with them. It's worth a look from local election officials and those who feel their local government's officials are not doing enough.
A lie to protect oneself or to mislead others in one's own interest is as bald a conflict of interest as there can be. But since it usually involves no money, and since it is hard to prove the difference between a lie and a mistake in knowledge or interpretation (which is why the word "lie" is never used; "misrepresentation" and "false statement" are preferred terms), a lie is almost never a violation of a government ethics code. In addition, most people don't seem to think lying is such a bad thing. After all, we all do it, and we all know that politicians do little else.

Take the New York City Police Department.

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Most local government ethics codes do not explicitly deal with settlement agreements, but most state ethics codes do. I left settlement agreements out of my first draft of the City Ethics Model Code, but I have just added a provision, Section 213(5). The language is based on that of several state ethics codes and rules, especially those of Ohio and Georgia.

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I've begun a process of going back through the Model Code, adding comments, alternative language, and possible additional provisions inspired by the way various local governments have dealt with the issues involved. As always, any and all comments are welcome.

I will report on and link to these changes in this blog. The first changes and additions are as follows:

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According to a New York Times article last week, hundreds of lawyers in New York State who have done consulting work for local school districts allowed themselves to be listed as part-time employees and allowed themselves to be enrolled in the school districts' pension systems. According to an article in the New York Law Journal, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said that the pension deals were also used by special districts, towns, and villages. Not only lawyers were involved in this, but "predominately lawyers."

Allowing yourself to be placed on a payroll and/or given a pension when you have not been an employee is fraudulent. It is illegal, and who would know this more than lawyers with municipal practices?

It is also unethical, a form of using one's position to obtain special consideration. However, in this case, it was done not by government officials, but by government consultants.

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