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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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What’s up elsewhere in ethics?

November 19th, 2012 · 4 Comments

With all the talk here about ethics over the past few days, it seems a good time for another quick update on the ethics issues being discussed elsewhere.

Commentary in the Palm Beach Post: “Support push for ethics reform in Tallahassee

Sen. Gaetz has proposed putting an important component of the Sunshine Amendment on line — disclosure of the financial interests of public officials. He also wants to reduce voting conflicts and ensure that lawmakers do not unfairly obtain crony jobs funded by the state budget that they pass. Sen. Gaetz and Rep. Weatherford want to eliminate secretive campaign PACs called committees of continuous existence (CCEs).

Rep. Weatherford wants more candidate accountability for political contributions and expenditures. That might involve allowing candidates to take larger checks, but Rep. Weatherford would ensure 24-hour disclosure of contributions. Floridians should welcome the combination of quicker disclosure, with candidates being more responsible and accountable for a greater share of the existing money in state politics. Imagine candidates being held accountable for their own ads.

Mr. Carlucci’s priority is ensuring that government employees and officials pay the fines they owe for filing late financial disclosure statements. The ethics commission should gain the authority to impose liens to collect fines, according to Mr. Carlucci. He is also calling for the legislature to allow the ethics commission to receive case referrals from state attorneys and law enforcement agencies. Mr. Carlucci also proposes using the same voting conflict standards for state and local appointed officials and removing deterrents to citizen ethics complaints.

Forsyth County, Georgia: “Forsyth BOC Makes Sweeping Changes in Ethics Ordinance

In changing the makeup of the Ethics Board, commissioners also struck down the “wrongful use” section of the ordinance that imposed a penalty on citizens who file what is deemed to be a “frivolous” complaint.

The section drew fire from critics who claimed its intent was to intimidate anyone considering filing a complaint.

In the future, each ethics complaint will trigger the formation of a new three-member ethics board to be made up of three out-of-county attorneys experienced in civil law. Once that board hears a complaint and renders a decision, it is disbanded. The next complaint then triggers the formation of a new board.

Here’s on that sounds familiar…
Binghamton, NY: “Many Broome County ethics forms incomplete, errors left unaddressed”

Broome County’s top-ranking public servants are required to file financial disclosure statements divulging details of their personal and family financial interests each year.

But a review of the documents filed by high-level elected and appointed officials in Broome government shows widespread omissions and errors that have gone unaddressed by the three-member ethics panel in charge of inspecting them, and raises questions about whether newly-proposed revisions to the county ethics code would do enough to solve the problem.

The Press & Sun-Bulletin reviewed more than 100 financial disclosure forms filed by county employees and officers this year, and found more than a third left some or all of the 14 questions blank — including 14 of the 19 forms filed by members of the Broome County Legislature. The forms reflect the officials’ finances and assets for 2011.

Arkansas Times: “Ethics Commission opens door to campaign spending abuse

It reported that the Ethics Commission had decided to dismiss a complaint against Republican Rep. John Burris. The complaint alleged that he’d made personal use of campaign money by making contributions to other Republican candidates, roughly $200 each to 17 candidates. The law prohibits use of campaign money to contribute to other candidates. But ….

“Evidence gathered during the course of the investigation reflected that your attendance at the fundraising events in question furthered your own campaign by allowing you to gain access to crowds of people which included legislators, lobbyists and political activists, all of whom were potential contributors to your campaign,” Ethics Commission Director Graham Sloan said in a letter to Burris notifying him of the dismissal of the complaint.

Baltimore Sun: “Annapolis to rewrite ethics rules for elected officials

Proposed new ethics rules would end the practice of keeping secret any unethical conduct by Annapolis city officials.

Current law requires all violations to be kept confidential, city Ethics Commission Chairman Jim Dolezal said. The new laws call for the posting of summary explanations online.

If passed by the City Council, it will be Annapolis’ first major rewrite of ethics rules in 18 years.

“Our goal is to really make the city government as open and ethical as we can,” Dolezal said. “If we made a finding of [a] violation, it continued to be confidential. We thought it should be public.”

The plan drafted by the city’s Ethics Commission also limits free meals and outlaws free tickets to sporting events for elected officials. The plan gives the commission authority to levy fines of up to $5,000 for infractions.

Washington Post: “Group recommends ethics changes for Metro board

Metro’s revised ethics policy for board members lacks specific sanctions for many violations, an expert review has found.

A director who violates rules regarding a financial conflict of interest can be forced off the board, but the ethics policy is silent on consequences for other ethical transgressions, according to the review, carried out by the the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

Boston.com: “Leominster mayor cited for ethics violation

The State Ethics Commission is citing Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella for violating Massachusetts’ conflict of interest law by directing that community development block grant funds be used to rehabilitate the property of an elderly friend.

The commission said Mazzarella told the city’s housing rehabilitation program coordinator to use the funds without following standard procedure. The commission also said Mazzarella failed to disclose his relationship with the property owner.

Baltimore Sun: “Baltimore ethics forms to go online, new IT director says

The financial disclosure forms filled out by about 1,900 city employees will be entered into an online searchable database, the city’s new Chief Information Officer told the city’s ethics board Tuesday.

“It’s a really easy project,” said Chris Tonjes, who heads the Mayor’s Information Technology Office.

Baltimore Sun: “Ethics oversight board hasn’t met in years”

Baltimore’s ethics director is in charge of advising elected officials and fielding constituent complaints about them. It’s unclear, however, if anyone is overseeing him.

A seven-member oversight panel, the Board of Legislative Reference, is responsible for hiring and firing the ethics director, according to the city charter. But, according to current and former city officials, the board has not met in six years — and perhaps longer.

The current ethics director, Avery Aisenstark has come under fire for doing legal work on the side for developers who are challenging zoning decisions in Baltimore County. Those same developers have had significant business interests before city agencies. Aisenstark’s office also has been criticized for failing to review ethics disclosure forms that city officials are required to file.

Tags: Ethics · lobbyists · Politics · Sunshine

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 DanMollway // Nov 19, 2012 at 8:23 am

    Ian, thanks for the review of what is happening around the nation. Having done this work for a very long time, I find your review as sounding very typical. Basically, the same problems exist everywhere. Ethics and ethics boards have also been part of an international movement and growth from at least the late eighties–as part of a democratic form of government.

    Aside from what is happening across the nation, we have four county ethics boards in Hawaii that are mandated by our State Constitution to do the same thing the State Ethics Commission does–or to put it differently–all are mandated to do the same thing. Your comments on how these boards are doing and issues before these boards would be informative. Thanks.

  • 2 Patty // Nov 19, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Ethics apparently is the missing subject in the family, schools, and religious affiliation!

  • 3 SteveLaudig // Nov 19, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Some suggestions for simple fixes. Minimum, mandatory penalties that cannot be waived. This would/should/could include jail time; financial penalties that cannot be paid by others only the offender; discharge from office; loss of pension benefits. Easily done, IF, there is the will. The Chinese, for large enough corruptions, execute government officials, party officials, and business people A practice I can’t say I am troubled by. What’s one bureaucrat [even a free-market bureaucrat], more or less?

  • 4 Richard Gozinya // Nov 19, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    The Chinese, for large enough corruptions, execute government officials, party officials, and business people

    My guess is that some would find this a tad extreme but we could probably all agree on public flogging.

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