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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 Sorry State Of State Propositions

    Monday, Oct. 4, 2010

    California may make more  headlines for ballot propositions, but a quick check shows voters in other states will also have to make some interesting decisions.

    In Oklahoma, for example, there are 11 issues to be decided, from a requirement to present identification at the polls to expand term limits for some officeholders.

    These are the more "straight forward" of the propositions. Voters will also have to decide yes or no on State Question 754. Here is what will appear on the ballot: "Approved by the Legislature in response to SQ 744 being placed on the ballot, this proposal would prohibit constitutional spending requirements based on pre-determined formulas or how much other states or entities spend on a function." What does that mean?

    Translating the difficult issues into a snappy ballot measure is not the way to enact legislation. The move toward allowing "the people to decide" only allows the legislators to give up their responsibilities.

     

  •  Candidates Owe Voters Civil Discourse

    Thursday, Sep. 30, 2010

    Granted it's a rough and tumble world out there when you are running for public office. Just witness the exchange New York gubenatorial candidate Carl Paladino had with reporters recently.

    In a scene reminiscent of a mobster movie, the candidate took on a newspaper editor, wagging his finger and shouting pejorative terms.  A shoving match ensued, and like kids in a playground scuffle, the two had to be separated.

    At the Ethics Center we have a phrase to help people understand the importance of their own actions. "Model the behavior you wish to see in others."

    I can only hope that the people of New York will ignore this type of behavior, and demand civility on the campaign trail.

     

  •  Can Anyone Win A Campaign Debate?

    Thursday, Sep. 30, 2010

    Long before the day of political polls and pundits, candidates met the public and each other in open debate. These mostly unscripted exchanges often took place outdoors, with a large and sometimes rowdy crowd in attendance.

    The 1858 Lincoln and Douglas debate was actually a series of 7 meetings. There were no sound bites: the first man spoke for 60 minutes, the next for 90 minutes, followed by a 30 minute rebuttal.

    Today the televised debates are a media production as much as political theater.  Typically, the audience is hand-picked, the moderator sticks to a script, and the candidates don't really spar as much as they just "snap" at each other.

    The first political debate I watched was between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. The broadcast was in black and white; the stage was sparse and the lighting too bright. In comparison to what I've seen recently, the unvarnished nature of those early days seems nostalgic and authentic.

     

  •  Positive Campaigns A Refreshing Change

    Wednesday, Sep. 29, 2010

    It's hard to be cynical about political campaigns when you hear about the candidates for mayor in Myrtle Creek, Oregon.

    Both men who are runnning have nothing but praise for the opponent.

    Dan Jocoy and Jeff Messner have agreed to "wage a friendly campaign that emphasizes their individual strengths rather than focusing on the other guy."

    Their political platforms are similar: both candidates want to give back to the community, bring new jobs, and make sure their small town is well represented at the county and state levels.

    The voters can't go wrong in this race. Each man has been named the town's "Man of the Year"  and believe communication and personal integrity are essential ingredients for public officials.

    I'd vote for that.

  •  An Ethics Commission With Clout

    Wednesday, Sep. 29, 2010

    It's usually pretty difficult for an elected official to be removed from office. Unless there is a criminal indictment and conviction or a voter recall, most officeholders have a great deal of "job security."

    That is, unless you serve on the Brunswick, Ohio city council. Earlier this week the council removed their colleague Anthony Capretta for a violation of the city charter.

    The 5-1 vote was to uphold the city's ethics board recommendation. According to the city charter, members of the council cannot go directly to a department head to ask them to take an action. (Everything must go through the city manager.)

    The councilmember called a city employee to complain about a constituent concern, which triggered the complaint and the comission hearings.

    Capretta was charged with "interference with city administration," and the charter says that if the ruling of the ethics commission is upheld by the council the penalty is forfeiture of office.

    As severe as this penalty may seem, it is refreshing to see a city take the charter seriously. Not all ethics commissions enjoy this level of support, and I commend the councimembers for their courageous act.

  •  How Important Is The "Final Stretch" In A Campaign?

    Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2010

    Voters are hearing the commercials, viewing the tv spots, and finding mailboxes filled to the brim with brochures. We're only weeks away from the November election.

    But how important is this "final stretch" in the outcome?

    Stuart Rothenberg says all the last-minute frenzy may make it even more difficult for voters to decide which way to vote.

    The increase in popularity of absentee ballots means many individuals have already cast their ballots and have moved on with their lives.

    The low approval ratings for both incumbents and the government in general is a reflection of the frustration and apathy felt at virtually all levels of government.

    Even political junkies, policy wonks, and media observers like me are at the point of saturation.

    Today's campaigns feel endless - and like the plot in the movie "Groundhog Day," each day becomes more frustrating than the last.
     

  •  City Council Politics Benefit From Media Spotlight

    Tuesday, Sep. 28, 2010

    Like the middle child, a small city caught between two larger cities can have a difficult time getting attention.

    Living below the radar may be what some politicians would favor, but the lack of media coverage can lead to a lack of accountability on the part of local government.

    Such is the concern expressed by Ted Griffith, a resident of Burlington, Ontario, Canada. In an opinion piece Griffith describes the frustration of living in a city wedged between Toronto and Hamilton, cities commanding more than a fair amount of press.

    "Without regular media oversight, our elected officials have to be of sufficient ethical character to police themselves, if not each other."

    When I served in elected office the media could be both friend and foe. What is your experience?

  •  Access To Campaign Expenditure Data

    Friday, Sep. 24, 2010

    Where do you go to find out how much has been spent on the governor's race in California? Is there a place to find a list of who is contributing money? Who is receiving it? How it is being spent?

    Fortunately, that information and more is easily accessible at Cal-Access, the Web site of the California secretary of state.

    With a click of the mouse, you can also locate copies of forms filled out by candidates for the CalPERS retirement board, check on lobbying activities, and access a calendar of important dates.

    This on-line resource provides the transparency necessary for the public to determine how government is working. It allows the press to cover candidates and issues from across the state. The site is an important educational tool, especially during the campaign season. Voters would benefit from bookmarking this link and using the data as they evaluate candidates and ballot initiatives in November.

  •  No Budget Means No Rest For The Weary -- Literally

    Friday, Sep. 24, 2010

    The inability of the California legislature to pass a budget has prompted the closing of freeway rest stops.

    The law requires water at the stops to be tested weekly, but with no money coming from Sacramento, barriers will be put up at the entrance to some stops. Crews who maintain the rest areas are at risk of losing their jobs, and the closures are predicted to take a toll on all travelers, especially those who drive long-haul trucks.

    This latest twist to the budget debacle is another indication of the lack of political courage among the legislators, and a discouraging reminder of their inability (or unwillingness) to compromise.

  •  Travel Policies Need To Be Clear

    Thursday, Sep. 23, 2010

    When public officials travel, even if for official business, there are often questions about who paid for the trip, and why.

    Such is the case in Madison, Wisconsin, where Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is being asked to justify a tour of bike-friendly cities in Europe.

    Because the trip was sponsored by a bicycle industry group, it is  unclear if the trip constitutes a violation of the city's ethics code.

    To clear up the confusion the city's ethics board has proposed new language that would "allow city officials to go on trips paid for by third parties, but they would be subject to the city's travel regulations and spending limits."

    This seems like a reasonable way to foster both transparency and accountability, while allowing public officials to take advantage of learning opportunities outside their city limits.
     

     

 
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