The ethics ordinance in League City is flawed, according to a review by a national ethics researcher, who found that the law confused ethics violations with criminal acts.
The “means that enforcement is in the hands not of the ethics program, but of a criminal enforcement agency, which may very well be led by colleagues or allies of city officials,” writes Robert Wechsler, director of research at City Ethics, a group that assesses and assists local government ethics programs. “In addition, this means that there is little distinction between a crime such as bribery and an ethics violation such as accepting a gift from someone doing business with the city.”
Wechsler also faulted the process for appointing people to the ethics review board (ERB), where appointees are selected by city council members.
“If the ERB dismisses a matter against a council member, it will appear that its members were voting in the interests of their appointing authorities rather than in the public interest,” Wechsler wrote.
Both the ethics compliance officer and the city attorney are allowed to provide ethics advice, Wechsler found, “allowing forum shopping among officials who feel the city attorney might let them do something the (compliance officer) would not.”
On a more positive note, Wechsler pointed out that the council’s recent ban on electronic communication between council members during public meetings was a step in the right direction and that anything other than such a prohibition goes against the state’s open meetings act.
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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