Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, looks at ethical dilemmas, scandals, and best practices in government.
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Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011 4:51 PM
In an interesting follow up to the case study posted earlier, the Los Alamitos, California city council is considering filing a lawsuit against a council critic.
In a 3-2 vote, the council voted to research how to handle a potential ethics complaint against Brad Sheridan, who ran unsuccessfully for city council a year ago. Sheridan, an attorney, has been accused of making “inflammatory comments” about other candidates and individuals involved in city government.
The vote directs staff to look into filing a complaint with the California Bar Association, but city manager Jeff Stewart said, “While Mr. Sheridan’s comments might be considered inflammatory and included references to the possibility of a criminal inquiry by the District Attorney, the statements did not include threats that met the threshold of being reportable to the State Bar Association. Accordingly no further action was taken on the matter.”
Those who voted against the investigation said it was a waste of time and money, and said the action looked like “a personal vendetta” and reflected poorly on the mayor and council, but the others favored moving ahead.
Debate centers around a lawsuit filed against the city’s trash haulers during the campaign, an action that pitted candidates against one another in an attempt to change the council majority.
What would you do if you were on the council?
Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010 11:46 AM
Most of the debate about unfunded public pensions centers on the nation's largest city governments. The situation is equally critical in some of our smaller communities.
South Burlington, Vermont has a population of only 17,000, but the current pension plan is underfunded by $9 million.
Council members have placed the blame on former city manager Chuck Hafter -- they allege he knew of the growing problem but failed to inform the council or the community.
In fact, the council has asked for a formal investigation by the International City/County Managers Association (ICMA). The runaway costs, Hafter says, are due to public safety enhancements; the council is accusing him of negligence, concealment, and possible personal financial benefit.
Regardless of the outcome of any investigation, this case is an indication of the pervasive problem state and local governments face when trying to live up to negotiated benefits.
Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010 4:56 PM
This week I learned of the passing of three former mayors, men and women I had the privilege to work with.
Along with the memories of the good times -- elections, re-elections, city-wide celebrations -- I will remember them also for the not-so-good times. Those would be the long meetings on weekday nights, the residents who became angry with a council decision, struggling with budget cuts,living through the California drought and mandatory water rationing.
I wonder how many of the candidates running in the November election have any idea of how much work and worry goes into public service, Would they believe me if I told them the number of hours they will spend in meetings? Could I get them to comprehend the tons of paper they will read, the complaints they will hear, and how few compliments will come their way?
It is quite possible their friends will no longer understand the special language they will learn, as they pepper conversations with words like infrastructure and namedrop organizations like BAAQMB when they refer to the Bay Area Air Quality Management Board.
So before you cast your vote, take a moment to appreciate the hardworking public officials who give up time with family and friends to take time to represent you.
Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010 11:58 AM
Kudos to the Albion, Michigan city council, who this week elected 23-year-old Garrett Brown to replace a seat vacated last month.
Brown, a Princeton University graduate, majored in religion, ethics, and politics, a perfect combination for public service.
"I just felt I couldn't continue to make excuses or complain about situations without at least trying to make a difference."
Too often the makeup of legislative bodies does not reflect the diversity in the community. It is important to encourage "emerging leaders" to participate in elective office, while embracing those whose experience and institutional history can add greatly to the deliberative process.