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Ethics Codes

Robert Wechsler
Some situations clearly involve a conflict of interest, but are not dealt with in a local government ethics code. Two issues arise. One is the quality of the local government ethics code. The other is whether the code matters at all, if the conflict is clear.

Such a situation exists with respect to a council member in Bellevue, WA, a Seattle suburb, with the extra twist that the city's ethics code applies to employees, and the state ethics code applies to council members.
Robert Wechsler
Time is a very important element of conflicts of interest. Some conflicts simply exist, but others either occur suddenly or suddenly become relevant.

For example, an official can have a piece of property for twenty years and then suddenly the owner of a neighboring piece of property asks the local government to help turn it into something that would significantly raise the value of the official's property. That's an easy to problem to deal with.

More difficult is the...
Robert Wechsler
The ethics war in San Diego is heating up. It has escalated from elected officials pointing out problems they have with the city's ethics commission to the future existence of the EC. The latest battle presents an excellent window into the mindset of those who oppose government ethics, especially, in this case, the enforcement of campaign finance rules.

Robert Wechsler
Should ethics commission members follow ethics laws to the letter, and no further, or should they provide leadership and a role model by going beyond legalism and instead acting ethically? State EC members in New York and Georgia are telling the world by their actions and their words that only the letter of the law matters in government ethics.

Robert Wechsler
Update: February 3, 2010 (see below)

A NC Local Government Blog post yesterday made me aware that there have recently been some very public conflict of interest issues involving North Carolina's alcoholic beverage control (ABC) system, the state liquor sales program, which allows each city and county to have a local alcoholic beverage control board and employees (163 boards in all).

Robert Wechsler
Many local government ethics codes have a provision that, when officials publicly give personal opinions rather than the government's position, requires them to clearly state that they are not representing the local government. Here's the one from the ethics code in Santa Clarita (CA) where, according to an...