making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler

There is one local government conflict of interest that is often ignored because it was created at the federal level by a federal statute. The statute is known as the Hatch Act of 1939 (Title 5, Subchapter III), originally known as An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities (they don’t make statute names like they used to).

The Hatch Act limits the political activities...

Robert Wechsler

New York politicians are making life hard for ethical politicians. “Present yourself as ethical,” they are effectively telling them, “and everyone will be harder on you when you don’t live up to expectations. Better to create no expectations at all.”

This isn’t what the government ethics community wants to hear.

The new example of an ethical politician caught with her pants down is New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, as we learned from...

Robert Wechsler

One nearly untouchable aspect of government ethics is the role of parties.

This is less a problem in municipalities than at other levels of government, because most municipalities in the U.S. are nonpartisan, although parties still play a role. But many municipalities and, in some states, particularly in the Northeast, all municipalities are still partisan. And most counties are partisan, as well.

In many cases, partisanship and local government are hard to separate. That is,...

Robert Wechsler

In an upcoming book, The Rule of Law and Development, Michael Trebilcock and Ron Daniels divide developing countries into three groups (according to an article in last week’s Economist):

1. Those where politicians, lawyers, and the public all support legal reform (e.g., Central Europe after the end of communism);
2. Those where politicians support legal reform, but lawyers and the police do...

Robert Wechsler

An essential problem in many local governments is a lack of transparency. When people do not know what is happening, and access to information is very difficult, democracy is undermined in several ways. Reformers have a difficult time showing what is actually happening or preparing for public meetings and public hearings. Newspapers are dependent on what officials say. Ordinary citizens become indifferent or completely turned off when all news is of the he said-she said variety.


Robert Wechsler

The following appeared in a recent op-ed column in the Los Angeles Times by a young doctor, SreyRam Kuy. The issue was a health insurer asking doctors to report patient conditions that might be used to cancel health insurance.

“Physicians hold a trust to protect the health of our patients. We cannot abdicate this sacred trust. ... That a person would allow me to take a scalpel and slice into his...