making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler

The Supreme Court of California has handed down a decision that could have a significant impact on conflicts of interest cases. In The People v. Chacon, S125236 (February 8, 2007), the court found that Chacon, a former council member charged with a conflict of interest, could not use the defense that she had acted upon the advice of the city attorney. The advice concerned her entering into an employment contract as city...

Robert Wechsler

Transparency is one of the most important elements of government ethics. And yet government ethics itself is often kept secret. Respect for the privacy of those investigated is given preference over the rights of residents to know what is going on. Ethics commissions often do not file annual reports and, when they are required to, the reports are rarely placed on a city's website. Ethics violations are considered embarrassments that should be swept under the rug, and ethics violators are...

Robert Wechsler

One of the best ways to create a more ethical environment in local government is to have more people run for office. The more people who run for office, the more pressure is put on the closed world that many local governments preserve. This closed world is preserved through the lack of interest not only of voters, but also of potential candidates, who feel the only way to get elected is to know the right people in the right way. Few people know what the options are.

The League of...

Robert Wechsler

The ethics reforms coming out of New York and Utah provide two contrasting, yet equally questionable approaches. In New York state, ethics legislation was negotiated among the new governor, the assembly speaker, and the senate majority leader, behind closed doors. In Utah, the governor said he would issue an executive order.

The background for each of these approaches is the same: the legislature could not or would not come up with ethics reform on its own. The Utah governor said he'd...

Robert Wechsler

As I state in my comments to section 207 of the model code, cutting the funding of ethics commissions is a popular way for politicians to prevent investigations from happening. Therefore, ethics reformers are always looking for new ways to ensure funding.

In Oregon, legislators decided to turn to local governments as a dedicated source of funding of an ethics commission that oversees local government officials.

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Robert Wechsler

What's the difference between wearing multiple hats and having conflicts of interest?

Former Vancouver City Manager Ken Dobell is the project manager (contractor, not employee) for a cultural precinct in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is also chair of the finance committee of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. He is also a long-time adviser to British Columbia's Premier, Gordon Campbell (under contract; formerly Deputy Minister to the...