December 9, 2010 •
They Have an Eye on Ethics Reform
Governor Bob Riley has called the Alabama state legislature into special session. The lawmakers are expected to convene on December 8, 2010 and take up the issue of ethics reform.
This year, the state was plagued by a scandal in which lobbyists and local businesspeople attempted to or actually did bribe legislators to vote for pro-gambling legislation. During the upcoming session, lawmakers are expected to pass reform reducing the amount a lobbyist may spend on an official without reporting it. Additional changes suggested by the Governor include a ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers of funds and requiring those who lobby the executive branch for contracts to register.
Photo of Governor Bob Riley by MSGT MARK OWEN, USAF on Wikipedia.
December 9, 2010 •
Composition Of Council Suggested
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin is pursuing the creation of a local ethics commission to replace the city’s reliance on the state. Currently, city ethics issues are resolved by South Carolina’s ethics commission. Mayor Benjamin believes reliance on a local commission with local ordinances would better serve Columbia and its city council.
The seven member commission would be made up of four residents from each of the council’s four political districts, a certified public accountant, a local business owner and an attorney. The attorney, who would serve as chairman, must not have done business with the city.
Photo of downtown Columbia by Akhenaton06 on Wikipedia.
December 9, 2010 •
Charlie Smithson is leaving to become Iowa House’s chief clerk.
The Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board has hired Megan Tooker as its new executive director. Tooker was unanimously selected by the six-member board and will assume the role on January 1, 2011. Before joining the agency, she graduated from Drake law school and clerked for former state supreme court Justice Michael Streit.
The outgoing director, Charlie Smithson, is stepping down from the position to become the Iowa House’s new chief clerk. Smithson had been with the board since 1998 and was originally its legal counsel. The Ethics and Campaign Disclosure board administers and advises on state lobbying, campaign and ethics laws and, to a certain extent, local ethics rules.
December 2, 2010 •
Shared Campaign Accounts Are Issue
Maryland General Assembly Delegate Justin Ross will introduce legislation requiring local officials to recuse themselves from voting on building projects if a developer contributed to a shared campaign account affiliated with the official.
Presently, local leaders may vote on land use projects while indirectly receiving political contribution from these developers through accounts shared with General Assembly candidates.
In addition to the officials recusing themselves, developers would have to provide detailed information about all contributions to individual and shared accounts when they are requesting a land use decision from a council.
November 24, 2010 •
Office Open For Business On November 26th
The Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.) will be open on Friday, November 26, 2010. Most other state offices will be closed for a mandatory furlough day. The G.A.B.’s next mandatory furlough day is scheduled for April 22, 2011.
November 23, 2010 •
A bill to include an ethics code in the city charter of Jacksonville is set to go before the full city council.
Since first being filed in July, the bill has moved slowly through committees until finally being approved by the city council Finance Committee on November 10, 2011. The bill has met delays in the process, as recommendations for the bill from the Ethics Commission and Charter Revision Commission have called for separate amendments to be made. However, when a meeting was scheduled for the two committees to meet and settle their differences, no members of the Charter Revision Commission were in attendance.
One of the biggest critics of the ethics legislation has been Jim Catlett, one of the owners of a firm which has performed lobbying services on behalf of several city agencies. Catlett was also a member of the Charter Revision Commission, and even made the motion to place ethics back into the city’s charter. But Catlett is now speaking out against the legislation, arguing it would create a new level of bureaucracy for the city which is unnecessary at the present time.
Flag of Jacksonville by Ssolbergj on Wikipedia.
November 23, 2010 •
Alabama utilities commissioners turn out the lights on gifts and contributions from lobbyists.
The state’s Public Services Commission approved new ethics rules last week by a 3-0 vote of the commissioners. These regulations prohibit a commission employee from soliciting or accepting a gift or campaign contribution from a lobbyist representing an industry regulated by the commission.
The new rules took effect immediately upon approval by the commissioners. The Public Services Commission regulates public utilities and telecommunications providers in Alabama.
Map of Alabama by JimIrwin on Wikipedia.
November 9, 2010 •
David E. Freel, Executive Director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, has announced his retirement after 17 years at the head of the agency.
During Director Freel’s tenure, the Commission issued ethics advice and guidance concerning Ohio’s Ethics Law to thousands of Ohio’s public officials and employees. Director Freel also supervised hundreds of investigations of Ethics Law violations at the local and state levels.
“I have truly enjoyed my work with so many Ethics Commission members and professional staff of high integrity over the years – they represent the finest ethical standard in public service for Ohio and its citizens,” said Executive Director Freel. “After 17 years as the Executive Director, I decided several weeks ago that it was time to hand over the reins to a new Director the Commission would choose.”
The Commission will discuss the search and selection process for a new executive director at its November meeting. Director Freel will step down at the end of the year.
You may read the Ethics Commission’s press release here.
November 9, 2010 •
Public Hearing for Late Filing of Campaign Reports
The 19th Judicial District Court of Baton Rouge has ruled the Ethics Board cannot enforce penalties for campaign finance violations. The court found a separate Ethics Adjudicatory Board must conduct public hearings when the Ethics Board alleges the late filing of, or absence of filing, campaign reports.
The Ethics Board had argued campaign violations requiring investigations were already referred to the Ethics Adjudicatory Board, but cases involving the mere failure to file reports on time, or not at all, did not require any investigation, and therefore did not require a separate hearing. The division of giving the Ethics Board investigatory and prosecutorial authority, while giving the Ethics Adjudicatory Board judicial power, comes from a 2008 change in the law meant to streamline the regulatory process.
November 8, 2010 •
Promises come in response to scandal connected with gambling legislation.
Alabama Governor-elect Robert Bentley wasted no time in declaring ethics reform a top priority when he assumes office in 2011. Bentley stated his preference is to hold a special session of the state legislature within the regular session, scheduled to convene in February, because it would save the taxpayers money.
Bentley’s goals for the special session include increased frequency of reporting political contributions and online publishing of the contributions. The promises of sweeping ethics reform come on the heels of a scandal in which state senators and lobbyists have been charged with bribery and corruption in connection with pending gambling legislation.
November 4, 2010 •
Amendment takes effect in 2011
On November 2nd, voters approved Constitutional Amendment D by a vote of 67 percent for to 33 percent against. Amendment D establishes a five-member legislative ethics commission with the authority to conduct an independent review of complaints alleging unethical legislative behavior.
The ultimate decision whether to punish or expel a member of either the House or Senate would remain with the member’s chamber. The amendment also prohibits sitting members of the legislature or registered lobbyists from serving on the new commission.
Amendment D takes effect on January 1, 2011.
October 25, 2010 •
New York Inspector General Finds Potential Ethics Violations in Video Lottery Terminal Bidding Process
New York State Inspector General Joseph Fisch has released a report that criticizes New York State leaders for failing to fulfill their public duty in the January 2010 selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Group (AEG) to operate video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. The 300-page report concludes that AEG should have been disqualified, and that the chaotic process resulting in AEG’s multi-billion dollar award was a “political free-for-all” marked by unfair advantages and more than $100,000 in campaign donations.
The report found that Governor Paterson, Senate Democratic Conference Leader Sampson, Senate President Pro Tempore Smith, and Assembly Speaker Silver each contributed to the multi-million dollar debacle. The report strongly recommends that the bidding process used to select AEG never be repeated and that New York State impose stringent procurement restrictions on all major contracts to ensure that they are competitive, transparent and fair.
The Inspector General’s Office is forwarding the report to United States Attorney and New York County District Attorney, for appropriate action and referring Senators Sampson and Smith to the Legislative Ethics Commission.
Map of New York by Huebi on Wikipedia.
October 18, 2010 •
Commission to Review Ethics Rules
Potential loopholes in the recently passed Palm Beach County Ethics Ordinance have some lawmakers once again working on ethics legislation. The new ethics rules, which went into effect on May 1, 2010, require a financial benefit to result from prohibited conduct, but do not include other benefits derived which are not financial in nature.
A proposed revision is in the early stages of legislation. Since 2006, four county commissioners have resigned their positions to face criminal charges over their misuse of office. Despite the potential loopholes, commissioners still hope the ethics reforms which took effect earlier this year will result in ethical relief to the scandal-plagued county.
October 11, 2010 •
The city council is expected to vote on a new ordinance concerning the creation of an independent ethics commission at the next city council meeting.
During a recent session of the council Rules Committee, the measure received unanimous support, with similar support expected before the full council at their Tuesday, October 12, 2010 meeting.
The new ordinance not only creates an independent ethics commission, but also provides for the operation of an ethics hotline and the mandatory ethics training of all consolidated government officials within 90 days of being elected. The ordinance, if passed, would reinstitute ethics features similar to the city’s originally chartered Code of Ethics, which was removed in the early 1970’s reportedly due to potential conflicts with a new statewide ethics law adopted by the Florida legislature which covered all public officials.
Photo of Jacksonville skyline by Jonathan Zander on Wikipedia.
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