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Her Honor

Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, looks at ethical dilemmas, scandals, and best practices in government.

The following postings have been filtered by category Corruption. clear filter
  •  Corruption In Bell Confirmed By Jury

    Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013

    Five of six former Bell, California councilmembers were found guilty of stealing millions of dollars from the city, the latest chapter in a story that triggered an investigation of local government salaries across the country.

    Although there are only 35,000 residents in the southern California city, the former mayor and council drew an annual salary of $100,000 by creating and serving on various boards and authorities that were found to be a “front” for exceeding the city charter’s salary limit of $8,076.

    Their justification is one heard frequently from public officials: we work hard, spend long hours, and often spend nights and weekends conducting duties as city councilmembers. While this may be true, these excuses cannot justify taking more than $1.3 million for their part-time positions.

    Perhaps the worst blow to the city and to local government was the outrageous and illegal activities of the former city manager, Robert Rizzo. His salary of $800,000 (double the salary of President Obama) made him not only rich but also powerful. Testimony from city employees highlighted the fear they felt in disobeying his orders.

    In fact, the city clerk testified in the trial that she “signed minutes of meetings she never attended and that she was ordered to provide false salaries to a resident who made a public records request.” Rizzo and his assistant Angela Spaccia, will face a jury in the coming months.

    While residents expressed relief at the verdicts, the story is far from over. Not only does the city need to regain public trust, the rest of the cities across the state and the nation must pay close attention to this cautionary tale, and ensure that checks and balances are in place to avoid corruption.

  •  Political Entitlement Hurts Public Confidence

    Friday, Oct. 29, 2010

    For anyone who has ever waited in line for hours to register a car, the news story about Memphis City Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware caused a spike in blood pressure.

    The council woman was just indicted by a state grand jury for "obtaining expedited service for car tags, in many cases without going to the trouble of having cars inspected."

    The evidence shows Ware was soliciting special treatment long before her indictment, and also accepted free tickets from a developer becase he was a 'nice guy."

    Despite the revelations, there are no consequences spelled out in the city's ethics code. The voters will have an opportunity to change that next week, when a charter change is on the ballot that would strengthen the code and call upon public officials to "conduct themselves in a manner that promotes confidence in the metropolitan government."

    As a Commercial Appeal editorial points out, the public should not return to office individuals "who don't know it's wrong to misuse the power that comes with public office -- whether it violates the law or not."

  •  Soap Opera At City Hall

    Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010

    The headline was simple enough: "Panel Says Haines City Manager and Police Chief Violated Ethics Laws." But what followed in the local newspaper was a tangled tale worthy of any soap opera.

    The Florida Commission on Ethics has announced there is propable cause City Manager Ann Toney-Deal and former Police Chief Morris West were in violation of ethics laws in 2008. The charges stem from a sexual harassment complaint by a woman officer. The city manager is charged with improperly conducting her own investigation, rather than processing it through the appropriate channels in the police department.

    The plot grows thicker. The officer accused of the charges resigned after a plea deal with the State Attorney's office. The plea also involved a second sexual harrasment charge related to a consenual affair with a former police officer.

    The city manager, if convicted, faces removal from office or a fine of up to $10,000. Former Chief West resigned and gave up his law enforcement credentials in a separate deal with the state attorney, who then agreed to drop three counts of soliciting prostitution from a female parolee.

    And to make this story even more incredible, the mayor of Haines is Horace West, brother of the former chief.

    I recount this story not because it highlights wrong-doing by public officials. Rather, it serves as an illustration that even in a town of 13,000 the public and press must hold all public officials accountable.

    The Grand Jury wrote a highly critical report about the management of the Police Department, yet it was only after the report was released that the state attorney took  action.

    The city commission voted to retain the city manager on a split vote, and we don't know the outcome of this saga yet. But one of the commissioners who voted to fire Toney-Deal summed it up: "In the category of ethical conduct, we have to be above reproach."


  •  Neither Ethics Nor Corruption Are Inherited

    Monday, Oct. 11, 2010

    When the headlines alert us to yet another public official headed off to jail, there is a temptation to cast all politicians in the same damaging light. Likewise, when the ethical problems occur in Philadelphia or  New Jersey, people are apt to dismiss them by saying "it's always been that way."

    I don't believe corruption is an inherited trait, nor do I think any city or state can be "written off" due to a history of unethical behavior.

    Does North Carolina come to mind as a hotbed of corruption? Probably not. But in 2007 when former North Carolina house speaker Jim Black was convicted of corruption, his was the worst case in the state. He served a three-year prison sentence for accepting some $25,000 in bribes.

    Corruption can occur in small and large cities, urban and rural. The population of a state does not determine a predisposition to politcal crime.

    So while it's important to prosecute those who have broken the laws, it is also important to consider the message we send when accept corruption as "the way things are done."

    The electorate must put aside their distaste and cynicism and instead focus on holding elected and appointed officials accountable for their actions.


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