CitiReport will periodically post links to articles around the country reporting on ethics actions — reforms being debated, enforcement actions underway — which provide an illustrative contrast to San Francisco Ethics Commission’s moribund state. Or in some cases, will mirror from other areas the reluctance exemplified in San Francisco. More than the specifics, however, it provides a glimpse into how much ethics is moving onto the political agenda in places around the nation.
Cleveland Ohio: Cuyahoga County offers first ethics training for businesses
Published: Sunday, May 29, 2011, 5:25 AM
By Laura Johnston, The Plain Dealer
Companies wishing to do business with the county must complete ethics training.
CLEVELAND, Ohio –Cuyahoga County is rolling out its first-ever ethics training for county contractors.
The training — with the first event June 30 aimed at construction firms — is mandated by a far-reaching ethics code County Council passed last month to stamp out corruption. It’s a partnership with U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach.
County Inspector General Nailah Byrd will present the ethics code to firms who already do business with the county, as well as those seeking county business. Federal attorneys will explain relevant rules and laws.
“This training is the next step in establishing a new culture and higher expectations for Cuyahoga County,” county Executive Ed FitzGerald said in a news release.
The training comes in the wake of a more than two-year federal corruption investigation, which has charged more than 50 people and exposed a culture of pay-to-play that extended from county offices to suburban school boards.
Birmingham, Alabama: VIEWPOINTS: Alabama’s rules against confidentiality in judicial ethics complaints affect us all
Published: Sunday, May 29, 2011, 5:50 AM
By Special to The Birmingham News
By Mallory Schneider
When an Alabama citizen files a complaint against a state judge with the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, the state Supreme Court requires the JIC to provide judges the names of the persons who file complaints against them, the contents of the complaint, as well as any and all evidence gathered by the JIC throughout its investigation of the judge’s alleged misconduct. Alabama is the only state in the nation that mandates these types of disclosures.
On April 1 of last year, the Republican majority of the Alabama Supreme Court entered an order that maintained these disclosure requirements, which were first enacted by the Alabama Supreme Court in 2000. Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb was the sole dissenter in the 2010 decision. Before rendering its 2010 decision, the Supreme Court expressly refused to hold a public hearing on the matter.
The effect of the 2010 decision affects the bench, bar and the general public.
The vast majority of Alabama judges conduct themselves in a manner beyond reproach. However, the disclosure requirements mandated by the Alabama Supreme Court undermine the perceived integrity and independence of the judiciary. Rather, the JIC rules’ lack of confidentiality creates a perception that judicial misconduct goes unreported due to the complainants’ fear of retribution.
Anniston, Alabama: Money for ethics: Ethics Commission gets what it deserves from Legislature
May 28, 2011
Proactive as it may sound, throwing money at a problem — particularly in state government — isn’t an automatic, can’t-miss remedy. Sound policy and strong leadership are required, as well.
But few programs excel with lackluster funding. That often can be a deal-breaker.
Using that logic, it’s good that the state Legislature passed a bill that guarantees proper funding for the Alabama Ethics Commission. Gov. Robert Bentley signed that bill into law earlier this week.
Consider this a pat on the back for both the governor and the legislators who supported the bill. Its passage will be a highlight of this historic session of the state’s first Republican-controlled Legislature since Reconstruction.
Consider this, too, a refresher on why empowering the ethics commission was so important.
It’s unfortunate that Alabama politics still carries the scars from the many misdeeds of the past. Last year’s indictment of four state legislators on a high-profile, vote-buying scandal related to a bingo bill in the Legislature is a fresh reminder of the lawmakers and power-brokers who have abused their power and taken the wrong path.
Those indictments brought the state shame. So, too, have the publicized legal troubles of former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford, former Gov. Don Siegelman and a host of others. In that vein, the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2010 ranking of Alabama as the fourth most-corrupt state based on the number of convictions of state politicians was no surprise.
Alabama has long needed a strong ethics commission that could strike fear in unsavory public officials. Without subpoena power, the commission was a paper tiger whose attempts to create transparency and ethical government could be thwarted by the disobedient.
The Legislature gave the commission subpoena power in a special session held late last year. And thanks to legislators like state Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, the bill’s sponsor, it no longer has to worry about influential Montgomery lawmakers pulling the plug on its funding because commission agents were making life uncomfortable for those skirting the rules.
New York, New York: Albany Needs Ethics Reform — Now
The first item on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s post-inauguration to-do list was ethics reform. He’s been in office five months, and we’re still waiting for the bill.
While the governor has been negotiating behind closed doors with legislative leaders (shouldn’t transparency top the list of reforms?), others are acting.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have announced plans to use their offices’ resources to investigate anything suspicious that involves the use of state funds. That includes no-show jobs, illegal expense reports, pension padding and bid rigging for government contracts.
The Schneiderman-DiNapoli idea is a good one, but not enough. Here’s what is needed, as Mr. Cuomo laid out in his campaign “Plan for Action”:
¶An independent ethics commission with powers to investigate and punish legal violations by lawmakers and members of the executive branch. No more self-policing.
¶End “pay to play,” with stiff contribution limits for contractors and lobbyists, immediate disclosure of contributions and real punishments for breaking the rules.
¶Full disclosure by lawmakers of outside earnings and clients — with no exceptions. Lawyers whose clients have business before the state must come clean. As Mr. Cuomo wrote, “Voters cannot have complete faith in their elected representatives if they cannot assess where else those representatives are earning money.”
¶A complete overhaul of campaign finance laws, including a move to public financing of elections, limiting contributions to party “housekeeping” accounts, closing other loopholes and giving the attorney general jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute violations.
Mr. Cuomo and the Legislature have about 10 more working days before they are scheduled to leave town for the year. It’s going to take a lot to clean up Albany’s sleaze. But without real ethics reform, it isn’t possible.
Salt Lake City, Utah: Coalition launches to promote ethics in Ogden government
By cathy mckitrick
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: May 27, 2011 01:01PM
A group of Ogden residents have launched the Ogden Ethics Project, not to endorse this season’s growing slate of municipal candidates, they say, but to promote open and fair government.
“We’re looking forward, not backward,” said project organizer Dan Schroeder, a frequent critic of three-term Mayor Matthew Godfrey.
On the project’s website, ogdenethics.org, Schroeder lays out a laundry list of problems that he believes need to be addressed, ranging from insider deals to financial shell games, media misuse and questionable campaign contributions.
“The point there is not to lay blame,” Schroeder said. “It’s important to document what the problems have been” — in order to put better policies in place.
Godfrey announced earlier this year that he will not seek a fourth term, so November’s vote will usher in a new mayor and perhaps new faces on the City Council.
However, the Ogden Ethics Project will not endorse candidates during campaign season, Schroeder said, nor will it accept donations. But Schroeder hopes to impact future government conduct.
“That’s why we’re doing this now,” Schroeder said. “We’d like to get all the candidates — mayor and council — talking about ethics in the course of their campaigns.”
Tulsa, Oklahoma: Council eyes options over mayor’s ethics violations
by: P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s ethics violations could result in action by the City Council that includes a possible censure, misdemeanor prosecution, or removal from office.
“We are reviewing several options,” Councilor Rick Westcott said Wednesday.
The Ethics Code states that intentional violation of the code is grounds for disciplinary action up to “dismissal or removal from office.”
Westcott said the council doesn’t know the procedures for removing Bartlett from office “because no mayor has ever taken the City Council down this road before.”
“No mayor has violated city ordinances like this in the past. This is entirely new ground,” he said.