making local government more ethical

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States and Municipal Ethics

Robert Wechsler
It's amazing how much local government ethics activity there is in this July. Here is a miscellany of issues that have arisen in just the last few days.

Robert Wechsler
There is a serious controversy going on right now in Jacksonville regarding the transparency of text messages by local government officials concerning government business. This is an issue where most governments have failed to keep up with technology. That's common, of course. But from a government ethics point of view, what is most important is how the issue is approached.

Florida, which is known for its good sunshine laws, dealt with the issue back in 2009 when, according to...
Robert Wechsler
They have various names, such as councils of governments (COGs), joint powers authorities (JPAs), and regional councils or commissions, but whatever names they have, these local government associations are often left outside of both local and state government ethics programs. And yet, as the term "joint powers authorities" implies, they do wield power and do spend or affect the spending of money, often huge amounts of money in transportation, water, and other construction projects.
Robert Wechsler
Erosion of an ethics program can occur in many ways (see the section of my book on backsliding). In Louisiana (where the state ethics program has jurisdiction over local officials), there has been a great deal of erosion, regarding the ethics board's role in the ethics process, the standard of proof, and the exemption of state...
Robert Wechsler
In recent years, Florida's elected officials have shown a great deal of leadership in the field of unethical and criminal misconduct. The state has a weak state ethics commission, which has jurisdiction over local officials, and until recently only one good local government ethics program, in Miami/Dade County (Jacksonville and Palm Beach County joined this list with ethics reform last year). The major voices in government ethics in Florida have, sadly, been grand juries.

The need...
Robert Wechsler
Luis Toro, the director of Colorado Ethics Watch, raised an important local government ethics issue in a recent Huffington Post post. It is a problem that is not peculiar to Colorado. It is also a problem that could benefit from a government ethics approach.

Here is the problem in a nutshell: "Although the Open Records Act specifies a charge of only 25 cents per page for...