making local government more ethical

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Ethics Commissions/Administration

Robert Wechsler
One kind of revolving door that is often ignored is the move from elected or appointed board or commission membership and a paid position that is approved by and under the direction of the same board or commission. It makes it look as if the board member were using her position to get herself a nice job, and exclude others. It also puts the board members in the conflicted position of overseeing a former colleague, who might very well be seen to have made a deal with them that would give them...
Robert Wechsler
It is a pleasant surprise to find an intelligent conversation about local government ethics in an article and the comments to it. The latest example of this occurred yesterday in the New Haven (CT) Independent, an online newspaper.

The conflict situation involves two instances of lobbying before the city's Board of Zoning Appeals by the city's former...
Robert Wechsler
Several interesting issues arise from a recent ethics case in Jefferson Parish, a suburb of New Orleans with about 430,000 people. According to an article in the Advocate yesterday, an employee of a large parish contractor sent the following e-mail to a council member's aide, who forwarded it to the council member:
“I would like to schedule a meeting with Councilman Spears...
Robert Wechsler
Two of the most important elements of a government ethics program are the appearance (and reality) of independence and a monopoly on ethics advice and enforcement. The government ethics program that has jurisdiction over the greatest number of local officials and employees in the U.S. has problems with respect to both of these elements. And its commission's selection of a new executive director, after two years without a formal director, emphasizes both of these problems.

Robert Wechsler
In New Orleans, it is the ethics board that selects the city's inspector general. According to an article in the July issue of New Orleans magazine, it took the city a long time to get an inspector general. The first time an IG's contract came up for renewal, the ethics board voted for it unanimously. The board chair, civic...
Robert Wechsler
Update October 7, 2013 (see below)

On Independence Day weekend, I like to focus on the independence of local government ethics programs. The public naturally trusts any ethics program that has not been selected by the officials under its jurisdiction. An EC that is not dependent on the appointment and budgetary powers of a mayor or local legislative body can function, and be seen to function, fairly and without bias.

Savannah is a city of 140,000 people,...