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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Monday, Sep. 10, 2012
To readers, the headline “Trenton Mayor Arrested in Corruption Investigation” may elicit a ho-hum reaction, but to those who care about ethics in government, it was just another painful reminder that some elected officials continue to use their powerful offices as places to steal from the public.
Mayor Tony Mack, his brother, and a sandwich shop owner have been accused of “conspiring to obstruct, delay and affect interstate commerce by extortion under color of official right.”
The investigation began only two months after the mayor took office in September 2010, according to a United States attorney. The sting involved Mr. Mack using his influence to support a parking garage. But the project was created by the investigators, and caught all three men in a series of lies and bribes. In 2009, a similar sting code -named “Bid Rig,” led to charges against 46 people. Those bribes were also attached to fictitious development projects.
Changing the culture of corruption in any organization is challenging. Changing the culture of corruption in a state where people openly brag, “We’re corruptible” seems impossible. But thorough investigations, vigorous prosecutions, and increased public scrutiny and media attention are all steps in the right direction.
Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011
Hurricanes, floods, and tornados – all take a toll on local government. But the recent blizzards in the mid-west and on the east coast serve as a reminder that there is a high cost for keeping a city functioning when you run out of money.
Some recent examples:
- New Jersey spent its entire snow removal budget of $20 million before the storm last week. Money is being borrowed from other accounts, but the state is hoping to receive more than $50 million in aid from the federal government.
- In New York City, $38.8 million was spent on the 20 inches of snow that fell in December—the full amount of funds set aside for this purpose. This does not cover the 36 inches that fell in January, or the cost of the current storm.
- Westport, Connecticut had to move 38 inches of snow from the roads, depleting not only the $400,000 budget but also exhausting city employees who have had to work round-the clock to clear streets.
- The city of Northampton, Massachusetts used to purchase snow removal insurance, but when the premiums became too expensive the city cancelled.
So while budget talks across the country will continue to focus on “essential” services such as police, fire, and education, there are many cities that will be forced to make even more difficult funding decisions in light of the unexpected and unfunded weather conditions.
Friday, Nov. 19, 2010
There are few things that infuriate the public more than government officials getting "a free ride." This is literally the case in New Jersey, where Port Authority commissioners, employees, retirees, and non-union employees had access to free E-Z Passes.
The practice began after the attack on the World Trade Center, home of the Port Authority offices. According to Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni the agency is "eliminating benefits that are unavailable to the toll-paying public." The new headquarters are expected to open in 2014, and the toll-free transportation will only be continued for those who were working on or before September 11, 2001 and will cease when the new building is opened.
The Port Authority estimates the move will save $1.5 million a year. Even though that amount is a fraction of the overall budget, dropping this benefit for all agency employees is a significant recognition of the importance of spending tax dollars wisely,