making local government more ethical

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Robert Wechsler

When an ethics commission is appointed by the city's principal officials, can it possibly clear the air with respect to allegations against them? Baltimore's Board of Ethics has five members, four of them appointed by the mayor, three of those confirmed by the Council, and the fifth member appointed by the city solicitor, who is in turn a mayoral appointee.

According to...

Robert Wechsler

There's a lot of talk about organizational culture and the effect it can have on individuals' unethical conduct, but it's rare to find reported instances of poor organizational cultures that aren't extreme, such as Chicago. Even Enron had an excellent ethics program, and its misconduct appears to have been limited to high-level management.

The U.S. Department of the Interior seems to be an excellent example of a terrible organizational culture, at least according to its Inspector...

Robert Wechsler

Philadelphia's Committee of Seventy may be a little gray (it recently celebrated its 100th birthday), but in its 'reborn' form (it had taken the limited role of monitoring election activities) it still knows how to take a stand and make a difference. It has made ethics a central issue of the upcoming mayoral election by putting together a four-page Ethics Agenda and asking all mayoral candidates to commit to its ethics reforms,...

Robert Wechsler

One thing that's good about local government is that so much of it is done by volunteers. Volunteers aren't professional politicians. They have something better to do with their time.

Yes, most of them do. But for many, government service is central to what they do with the great bulk of their time.

An article in the Alamogordo, New Mexico Daily News (12/27/06) focuses on the most basic and, apparently,...

Robert Wechsler

Local government attorneys have special conflict of interest problems. Should there be ethics rules particularly aimed toward them?

Here's a recent example of a situation that could have been prevented by such rules. In Reading, Pennsylvania, a city councilman asked the city's Board of Ethics for an advisory opinion concerning the fact that the Reading Area Water Authority had contracts with a company owned by the authority's executive director. The Board of Ethics determined that...

Robert Wechsler

Gerald Ford's passing revives the memory of one of the least remembered parts of the story of the Watergate affair: the pardon of Richard Nixon.

Remembering the pardon is important because it shows two important things about government ethics enforcement. First, how ethics rules are enforced is more important than the rules themselves. If rules are enforced with vengeance or if rules are enforced mechanically, they will not be respected except by those who desire vengeance instead of...