making local government more ethical

You are here

Confidential Information

Robert Wechsler
I'd like to call your attention to a new local government law blog that, among other issues, covers government ethics. It's called Coates' Canons: NC Local Government Law Blog, and it's a joint effort of  local government law faculty members at the School of Government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Albert Coates, after whom the blog is named, was the founder of the university's Institute of Government...
Robert Wechsler
In a recent blog post on the new Michigan Model Local Government Ethics Ordinance, I noted in passing that the model wrongfully made divulging confidential information a violation even when it benefits no one, and that this is not a government ethics issue.

This same issue arose this week in Bainbridge Island (WA), according to...
Robert Wechsler
Recusal is a touchy subject for government officials, for two principal reasons. One, withdrawing from a matter can appear to constitute an admission of misconduct. This is because so many people, and even ethics codes, consider it wrong to have a conflict. Actually, recusing oneself is a way of dealing responsibly with a conflict, and is the opposite of misconduct.

Two, raising the issue of a conflict can disclose information the official would rather keep personal. After all, the...
Robert Wechsler
Government ethics policies sometimes clash. The most common clash involving ethics commissions is with transparency laws.

Like any government body, ethics commissions would prefer not to discuss many sorts of matters in public, both to protect the parties involved and because it is uncomfortable to discuss many ethics matters in public. Because counsel is present during most such discussions, ECs (and their lawyers) often feel that such discussions are privileged. There are also...
Robert Wechsler
According to an Associated Press article yesterday, the Oklahoma Ethics Commission recommended a rule change that would get rid of the gag rule on people who file ethics complaints. The cause of the rule change is two suits filed against the EC, challenging the gag rule. The suits were filed on freedom of speech grounds. See my recent...
Robert Wechsler
Updates below
Anyone who doubts the need for truly independent ethics commissions need look no further than what has been happening in Philadelphia this week. Or should I say "this year"?