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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.

  •  Practical Discussions About Public Management

    Monday, Mar. 19, 2012

    While elected officials garner most of the headlines – good and bad—there is another important “player” in government: the public manager.

    I was reminded of this last week when I had the privilege of addressing a group of graduate students at UCLA’s School of Public Affairs. The class included a few mid-career students as well as those who came to the program directly from their undergraduate institution.

    Engaging with the students was the brainchild of their professor, Michael Dukakis, who is a visiting professor of political science. His class, “Bureaucracy and Public Management” is designed to look at leadership, especially “public management in the tough, day-to-day world of politics and intensive public scrutiny.”

    Dukakis, a three-term governor of Massachusetts, began his public service as an elected town meeting member, then served in the state legislature before running for governor. He also was on the faculty of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard (KSG), which is where I met him. Serving as the 1988 Democratic nominee for president required him to leave KSG, but he still uses many of their case studies in his classes.

    His syllabus includes “Politician as Outsider: Judy Nadler and the Santa Clara City Council (www.hks.harvard.edu/case/caseweb/abstracts/89915.htm). This case describes an ethical dilemma I faced early in my city council career, and provides facts and circumstances that impact the city council, city manager, staff, the media, and the public. The discussion was rich, and it was exciting for me to see this group of bright students debate and hypothesize about the case.

    A record number of public managers are retiring, and this and other classes like it serve as important gateways to public service. The experience is made all the better when someone like Michael Dukakis shares his wisdom, and invites, as he put it, “the woman behind the case” to join his class for this session.

     

     

  •  Social Media And Consultants Change Nature Of Campaigns

    Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012

    Tweet, post to Facebook, or call your favorite political reporter.

    This is the way consultants who specialize in "opposition research" are shaping the tenor and tone of the current campaigns.

    There is hardly a reason to call a source for a story about a candidate. The Twitter postings are a non-stop supply of truth and lies, each writer hoping to find the snippet incorporated in a news story or broadcast -- or retweeted.

    I recently heard a disturbing observation from a journalist who has covered politics for many years. "Opposition researchers have replaced investigative reporters."

    For all our sakes, I hope that is not true.

  •  When Legislators Ignore Conflicts Of Interest: A New Kind Of Double Dipping

    Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012

    A loophole in the Maine state law has allowed public officials to benefit from millions of dollars going to private organizations where they have an interest.

    According to a study by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, nearly $235 million in state funds have been paid to various private and non-profit organizations either run by “legislative leaders or the spouses of high-level state employees.”

    While some of the payments date back to 2003, there are significant examples of current conflicts of interest. For example, Senator Joseph Brannigan, chair of the Appropriations and Human Services Committes, was part of a deal to direct $98 million to Shalom House, where Brannigan was executive director. Brenda Harvey, stepped down from her position as a Human Services Commissioner in 2011, but not before $15.4 million was directed to Mobius, Inc., where her husband was executive director.

     Well-connected officeholders were not the only ones to benefit. Not included in the $235 million is some $60 million paid to employers of other legislators, to organizations ranging from group homes and daycare centers to a community counseling center.

    “Each of the legislators or state officials say they did nothing wrong, and said their statehouse colleagues knew of the overlapping private and public roles, thereby, they claim, creating a ‘check’ on any possible conflicts of interest.”

    But conflicts of interest are not the only issue. Due to another loophole in the state law, “lawmakers and executive branch officials who leave office between one year’s disclosure filing deadline and the next year’s deadline don’t have to file a disclosure for their last year (or portion of a year) in state government This leads to a complete lack of disclosure, especially when an executive leaves state employment.

    Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the state’s Commission on Governmental Ethics summarized the “double dipping” in simple terms: “I think it’s good for the public to know if public officials or members of their immediate family have significant contracts with the state.”

  •  Social Media Create an Ethical Dilemma

    Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011

    The following is a fictionalized case reflecting some of the ethical dilemmas facing public officials.

    Mike Monroe and Derek Wheeler were roommates and fraternity brothers at a small mid-western college. Both were political science majors, so they saw a lot of each other, both in academic and social situations. Derek’s wild and outrageous pranks, excessive drinking, and one-night-stands earned him the reputation of playing “fast and loose” in his personal life. He had been caught plagiarizing twice, but was only given a warning. Still, he was personable and a good friend, so upon graduation the two vowed to stay in touch.

    After their fifth college reunion, where Derek became so drunk he needed to be hospitalized, Mike decided to break off communication. His only updates on his former roommate came through the fraternity alumni magazine, where Derek submitted updates on his career. He had a master’s degree in public administration, and had been working for cities in several states. His job in each jurisdiction lasted only two or three years, but each new job sounded like a promotion. Mike figured Derek had finally “grown up” and was happy to learn of his success.

    Mike had also been successful. He moved to Utah, and worked as a field representative for a state legislator. He fell in love with public service and was elected to the city council. He was now in his second term as mayor, and was overseeing a new “culture of ethics” program in River Falls, stressing  values in addition to the rules outlined in the code of ethics.

    It had been 10 years since they last connected, so Mike was surprised to get an invitation from Derek to be a friend on two separate Facebook accounts. Mike agreed, and first went to a personal account featuring facts about Derek’s education, work history, and family. The second Facebook page, with privacy controls restricting access, was for a group called “Derek’s Doghouse.” The other “friends” on the site included some fraternity brothers, but also a collection of men Derek had met or worked with over the years.

    He founded the group, according to the site, “ to celebrate the good life: wine, women, and wild times.” The wall postings chronicled wild weekends in Las Vegas, gambling on sporting events, and exploits with women while on business trips. The 20 or so members were candid, unedited, and occasionally profane in their comments, bragging about their bad behavior. The stories were often accompanied by compromising photos.

    Within days of the Facebook contact, Derek called Mike to ask for a job recommendation. He was submitting his application for the assistant city manager position in River Falls and wanted Mike to put in a good word. “I’ve never asked for a favor,” Derek said, “but this job is perfect for me and my family. I really hope you will be able to influence the HR director and city manager to hire me.”

    Discussion questions:

    • How should Mike proceed?  Should he tell Derek he doesn’t feel comfortable making the recommendation?
    • Should he tell Derek that River Falls is not a "good fit" for him?
    • Does he have an obligation to alert the HR manager and/or city manager of the way Derek conducts his personal life?
    • Is Derek’s secret personal life an indication of his values? Does it matter?

    Please let us know what you think by posting your comments on this site.

  •  When Is A Contribution A Bribe?

    Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011

     The following is a fictional case based on real ethical dilemmas facing public officials.

    Ramona Lopez never saw herself as a “titan of industry.” She was a sociology major in college, and designed and made jewelry to earn extra money. Her original designs and modest prices made her quite a name on campus, and the university bookstore began to carry her jewelry.

    Upon graduation, with no job prospects in her field, she decided to get serious about her hobby and worked with a friend to produce enough jewelry to sell at boutiques. A buyer from a regional department store saw her work and offered to take the designs nationwide, and Ramona found herself in the jewelry business. She learned quickly that the location of the retail stores was critical to her sales, so after much research she took out a loan and bought a small strip mall in a new suburb. It was immediately occupied, and the income from both her jewelry business and the real estate investment put her in a position to acquire several other parcels of land. She continued her successful formula of moving into new neighborhoods, and in just five years she had become one of the wealthiest residents of Camino County.

    As more of her operations were turned over to professional managers, Ramona decided to dedicate her time and money to several causes close to her heart – the shelter for battered women and the community fund. Her good works and generous donations earned her the “Citizen of the Year” award, and the shelter named its daycare center The Lopez Center to recognize the donation that funded the building.

    Local and state legislators were on a first-name basis with her, and she enjoyed the opportunity to call on them when she had a question or needed help with a project. When the neighbors complained about a proposed expansion of one of her shopping centers, Ramona went to see the mayor of the city to find out how to expedite the planning commission hearing and get council approval.

    Mayor Janice Noonan was a bit “star struck” by this savvy businesswoman, and was eager to please her. Ramona mentioned her admiration for the mayor and offered to donate to her upcoming re-election campaign and publicly endorse her. In addition to her personal check of $10,000, she gathered $1,000 checks from 25 of her top employees, who were later reimbursed, in violation of state law.

    When the “pay to play” was discovered, Ramona was fined and given two years of probation. During this time she continued her philanthropic activities, doubling her donation to the shelter project and giving significant money to five other non-profits.

    Laura Raices, a board member of the shelter expressed concern about accepting the additional money. “I applaud Ramona Lopez and her past generosity. But I feel uncomfortable accepting any future donations. It looks like she is trying to buy forgiveness and use her money to restore her damaged reputation.”  But her fellow boardmember Jason Warren argued that there was nothing wrong with accepting Lopez's money.

    Questions for discussion:

    • Should the shelter accept further donations from Lopez?
    • Why or why not?

    Post your comments and any examples you know of that are similar to this scenario.

  •  Tweet This

    Monday, Dec. 12, 2011

    Are there any rules requiring an elected official to disclose board membership on a non-profit organization? Is it ethical for a councilmember to fundraise for a favorite charity? For the purposes of getting free tickets to a concert or sporting event, what is the definition of “ceremonial role” or “in an official capacity?” These were some of the questions discussed at the recent meeting of the Council on Governmental Ethics Laws (COGEL).

    Nearly 300 individuals from the United States, Canada, Australia, and Brazil traveled to Nashville to share best practices, get updates on ethics laws, and learn the latest on lobbying, campaigns, freedom of information requests, and many more issues.

    The use of social media was a hot topic, and tech-savvy participants were busy tweeting during the panel discussions. Enforcement of ethics violations, including fine structures prompted spirited debate, as did the Citizens United decision.

    Look to this blog and my tweets in the coming weeks for more on the conference. I invite all who attended to comment at the end of this blog on what was the your most significant “take away” from the meeting.

  •  Council On Governmental Laws

    Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011

    I will be away next week at the COGEL meeting in Nashville. This is a fantastic way to exchange best practices, emerging trends, new laws, and all things related to governent ethics. It is the premier conference of the year, and the opportunity to network with other ethics professionals is invaluable.

    I will resme my blog on December 12. Hope to find some comments on past blogs when I return!

  •  What's In A Name?

    Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011

    The following case has been created for discussion purposes. We welcome your comments.

    The city of Berkshire was proud of its tradition and history. For the residents of this suburb, one of the greatest sources of pride was the city government. The state league of cities had cited Berkshire as one of the top 10 in the category of best-run municipalities, and most of that credit went to Mayor William Simmons.

    Owner of the largest insurance company in town, Mayor Simmons set the record for longest-serving mayor – 42 years in office. The council decided to honor him by naming the new boulevard leading to city hall “William Simmons Way” and to erect a large monument sign in the plaza citing his service and leadership.

    Several local companies, including a restaurant, law office, title company, fitness center, and medical offices relocated to the new street.

    Two years later, Simmons was sentenced to three years in federal prison for taking more than $500,000 in kickbacks in return for steering business to several contractors while he was mayor. He resigned in shame, asking forgiveness from the community and admitting his actions gave “a black eye” to Berkshire.

    Rosemary Preston, the new mayor, suggested the sign be removed and the street renamed. There was an outcry from Mrs. Simmons, who said she had conducted a survey of residents and there was “overwhelming” support for keeping the sign and street name. “It’s just plain wrong to let this one blemish ruin an otherwise spotless career.”

    The council also heard from individuals who said to honor the former mayor was in direct contradiction to the town’s ethics and values. One city hall employee spoke up saying, “I don’t want to see his name ‘glorified’ each day when I come to work.”

    A more practical concern was expressed by the businesses on the street. The attorneys who had offices on William Simmons Way explained what it meant to change the name of the street. “We have to change our letterhead and business cards, notify all our clients, change our insurance policies, utilities – the list is endless. We don’t care if you take the sign down, but don’t make us go through the trouble and expense of changing the name of the street.”

    Questions for discussion:

    •  It is appropriate to name public streets or buildings for individuals who are still alive?
    •  Would this be an issue if the crime were of a personal nature, and not one involving the conduct of the public’s business?
    • If the street is renamed, should the city be responsible for the costs incurred to the businesses?
    • What should the council do?
    • What would you do?
  •  Public Deserves Complete Transparency

    Monday, Nov. 28, 2011

    Transparency in government is not limited to those who hold office. Many states require detailed reporting of economic interests, not only of the candidate or office holder, but also of their family members, including their spouses and children.

    In a ruling just published by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), Claudia Chandler, the chief deputy director of the California Energy Commission was fined $6,000 for participating in two governmental matters where she had a financial interest.

    Unlike many cases where the conflict was direct – where one has a financial tie to the agency awarded the contracts – in this case, she had a personal financial interest through her community property interest in her husband’s business.

    Another stumbling block can occur when the value of stock or property has increased since the last filing, and requires disclosure of that new value.

    Record keeping for public servants is like filing your taxes. You must save your receipts, be prepared to back up your claims, and declare the required financial interests –completely and honestly.

  •  Mayor Who Takes Pen Name Harms Press And Public

    Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011

    Every mayor wants the local newspaper to run positive stories about his or her city. Few, thankfully, hide behind a fake name to write only positive articles.

    Mayor Mike Winder, mayor of West Valley City, Utah felt the local paper, the Deseret News, was not writing enough positive articles about his city, so he decided to submit his own stories, under a fake name – Richard Burwash.

    The paper encourages “citizen journalists” to submit stories to get a more local angle. “I thought about all the people just reading about crime in our city and nothing better,” said the mayor. He took on the name Burwash and used a photo of Peter Burwash, a former professional tennis player he found on the Internet.

    Although he was not paid for his articles, he established a relationship with the paper, a television Web site, and a weekly paper – all by using email and phone conversations. Using his alias, he wrote more than a dozen articles. In some he quoted himself. He did not apologize for his actions, but has apologized for using the name and photo. He eventually told the Deseret News that Richard Burwash had moved to England.

    The real Mr. Burwash was distressed, saying “It’s one thing if you’re a 16-year-old student. But he’s a high profile person in a state known for a good set of ethics.” An editorial in The Salt Lake Tribune put it succinctly: “Submitting ‘news’ under a false name, even going so far as to quote yourself—well, there’s one word for it: lying.”

    Discussion questions:

    • Do you think Mayor Winder should resign?

    • Should the city council take any action, such as a censure?

    • Is this action serious enough to prompt a recall?

    • Can the public trust an elected official who has misrepresented himself?

 
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