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County Related

Robert Wechsler

If anyone questions the value of advice regarding municipal ethics issues, look at these statistics from the Atlanta Ethics Office.

66% of ethics complaints filed in 2007 alleged use of city property.
3% of the requests for advice in 2007 involved use of city property.

If only people would ask. At least, Atlanta has an Ethics Officer to ask.

My guess is that people who want to make use of city property don’t want to be told they can’t. They know the answer, so they...

Robert Wechsler

Campaign finance is an area of municipal ethics that is often treated as a separate field entirely. But they’re closely related. Both involve the conflict between private and public interest, and especially gifts to elected officials. The principal difference is that campaign contributions are a perfectly legal way of giving to elected officials, which makes the problem a bit more complex.

I began administering the...

Robert Wechsler

When we talk about gifts to politicians, we often talk about gifts of nominal value being okay. Buy a politician a coffee, what’s wrong with that?

But what happens when it’s the other way around? What if the politician buys a coffee for a citizen? One citizen, no problem. A few more at a fundraiser, that’s okay (and it's not buying votes, but rather buying more money). But what about thousands of citizens? When does something of nominal value become something with a corrupt intention...

Robert Wechsler

An Alaskan state representative needs a new kidney. The new state ethics law does not allow gifts over $250. It has a compassionate gift exemption, but it only allows compassionate gifts with a fair market value less than $250. This is one of many unforeseen consequences that comes from ethics codes (or any legislation, for that matter).

So the state legislature is rushing through a bill to change...

Robert Wechsler

The Ethics Resource Center’s first National Government Ethics Survey has just come out, and is available free at the ERC’s website, although it requires registration. It is the result of a random 2007 telephone poll of government employees, and is part of a series of polls looking at ethics in different sorts of workplaces. City Ethics' Founder, Carla Miller, was on the Advisory Group for this survey.

Here are some of the Survey’s...

Robert Wechsler

The most important division in ethics is between ends-based approaches (consequentialist or teleological, best known as "the ends justify the means") and rules-based approaches (deontological).

The most important problem for individuals in government is that we are taught rules-based approaches while we’re growing up (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”), but in government most talk is in terms of ends (Will it raise taxes?).

Today’s New York Times has...