making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler

An excellent op-ed column by Stanley Fish in the July 14 New York Times focuses on a very difficult ethical problem in municipal government: affirmative action. The recently decided Supreme Court decision, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 et al (No. 05-908), concluded that the 14th amendment's equal protection guarantee of treating each citizen as an individual, rather than as a...

Robert Wechsler

Many municipal ethics codes have a provision similar to this one:

Contingent Fees
No official or employee may retain, or be retained by, anyone to solicit or secure a contract with the town upon an agreement or understanding that includes a commission, percentage, brokerage, or contingent fee, except with respect to attorneys hired to represent the town on a common contingency fee basis.

I had never thought twice about the exception for attorneys who work on a...

Robert Wechsler

According to a May 24, 2007 New York Times editorial, the Commerce Department inspector general, charged with protecting whistle-blowers, took vengeance on two subordinates who questioned his expense accounts. He reassigned his top deputy and his counsel to peripheral jobs, when they refused to sign off on expensive trips and office renovations. This happened at the federal level, but it is important to show how fragile whistle-blowing is.

No one, not mayors, not city...

Robert Wechsler

Today's New York Times Week in Review section features an article on local prosecutors and how their ethical misconduct is dealt with by the lawyer discipline system, the profession's disciplinary system.

The case of the Duke lacrosse prosecutor, Michael B. Nifong, is, of course, the occasion for this article. Mr. Nifong was disbarred for withholding evidence from the defense and...

Robert Wechsler

At first glance, these two logical fallacies don't seem to have much to do with each other.

When you beg the question, you assume something has been established or proved, according to my trusty dictionary. The way a logician would define the begging the question fallacy is that the premises include the claim or assumption that the conclusion is true, without providing any evidence or actual argument. The result is a circular argument, taking for granted what it's supposed to prove....

Robert Wechsler

One great advantage of handling local government ethics matters at the state level is that decisions and advisory opinions can be easily and widely disseminated to all local governments in the state.

This sort of publicity is good for several reasons. One, it provides precedents and guidance to local government officials. Two, it provides deterrence by showing the consequences of a wide variety of ethical violations. Three, it makes available to citizens, the media, and all...