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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 tag ethics commissions. clear filter
  •  Good Reasons To Have An Ethics Board

    Monday, Oct. 15, 2012

    “The reason an ethics board is so important is that it helps keep city officials honest, not just with city residents but with themselves. It can be easy for a city employee or elected official to internally justify an action that others might consider a conflict of interest or stepping over an ethical line.”

    This observation, made in an editorial in the The Citizen, an Auburn, New York newspaper, is one of the best descriptions of the purpose of an ethics board. The comments were written to encourage the Auburn City Council to move swiftly to appoint members to its ethics board. According to the paper, the council embraced restructuring the board, which had been dormant since the 1990s. That vote was taken in January, but as the editorial points out, no action has been taken since then.

    “This board could help provide guidance to city officials before they act. And of course when evidence surfaces that an ethical violation has taken place, having this board available to look into it would be a vital resource.”

    Good advice for Auburn, and for any other jurisdiction with a languishing ethics board.

  •  Effective Ethics Commissions Must Be Well Funded and Independent

    Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012

    “A parade of state legislators has marched past the state Ethics Commission on their way to federal and state prisons.”

    Thus begins an editorial in the Times-Tribune commenting on the state of government ethics in Pennsylvania. The state, whose motto is "Virtue, Liberty, Independence," was given a “generous” C+ in a recent “report card” on government integrity in the United States.

    Two conflicts are in play. First, the governor and other legislative leaders are in charge of selecting members of the Ethics Commission, and these individuals are not confirmed by the legislature at large.

    Second, the current budget reflects significant cuts – what the editorial characterizes as  an attempt to keep the commission “on a short leash.” A $197,000 cut under Governor Ed Rendel won approval; Governor Tom Corbett’s effort to reduce the $1.7 million budget by another $88,000 was defeated. The money allocated to ethics is insufficient give the size and political culture of the state.

    Pennsylvania has a history of ethical misconduct in government. Numerous senators are facing federal corruption charges, and some have already been convicted. Absent the criminal charges, there have been clear ethical violations.

    Reformers have introduced a bill to create an independent Public Integrity Commission, one with greater power. The legislation would create a 15-member committee with ethics law experts, a district attorney, and “good-government advocates.” That bill is “languishing” in the legislature.

    An ethics commission is only effective if it is truly independent. I agree with the paper: “Such a watchdog agency would be a far more effective deterrent than the current agency. It should be an obvious reform with the state government bedeviled by corruption.”

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