making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler

Either the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania is the head of a vicious manhunt unknown since the days of J. Edgar Hoover, or Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent J. Fumo has not only failed to apologize for all that he has done, but he has, like so many unethical politicians before him, gone to the other extreme: denying every accusation and presenting himself as a victim....

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...

Robert Wechsler

One of the most serious obstacles to ethics training is cynicism. For example, a councilman in South Lake Tahoe, California said, according to a recent article in the Tahoe Daily Tribune, that the California requirement of ethics training for all municipal officials is an indication of a breakdown in trust in local government and "It's not going to change behavior. [It] creates a job for someone."


Robert Wechsler

How can an ethics commission be truly independent?

In the model code I wrote as the beginning of what I hope will be a long public conversation about all aspects of municipal ethics, I suggest that a municipality's legislative body appoint members from a list given to them by the local League of Women Voters.

I did not mean to prefer this particular organization, but to get people thinking (and talking) about the possibility of having an independent,...