Monday, June 27, 2011

956 Ethics

Odie Arambula (LMT) focused today's "Monday Wash" on a recent Supreme Court ruling that speaks to conflicts of interest within governmental entities.
In a nutshell, the high court’s ruling upholds “ethics laws that forbid legislators and city council members from voting on matters in which they have a conflict of interest.”

Mr. Arambula lamented the fact that the court's ruling probably didn't register on our local officials' radar, even though conflicts of interest have affected everyone from our school boards to county and city govenment.  I don't even want to get into the doings of our state and federal officials since the stakes are surely much higher.
Here's a little background, courtesy of the wash writer, on the case that led to the Supreme Court 9-0 vote.
It seems that in the town of Sparks, Nev., a city alderman was censured by the Nevada Commission on Ethics for voting in favor of a hotel-casino project backed by the official’s campaign manager.

The commission ruled that the alderman should have abstained as provided by state ethics law.
Mr. A. offers this suggestion:
On that score, dear friends, we would do well to pay more attention to the public bodies — City Council, Commissioners Court, commissions, committees, boards, etc. — that post long meeting agendas wherein items are approved on a motion and a second with little or no discussion.
(emphasis mine)
For some reason, yesterday I got to thinking about the money spent by those who seek local office.  Their expense reports have detailed spending in the tens of thousands, if not more.  I stop and wonder how these new campaign debts fit in with their usual mortgages, car payments, etc.  That money has to come from somewhere; And I think that's where the conflicts of interest come in.

The local blogosphere has discussed, to some extent, the relationship between governing bodies and local contractors.  Wake Up Laredo recently talked about a contract awarded to Leyendecker Construction, even though they were bidding higher than other companies, and not even near the top of the recommended list of contractors.   

Campaign contributions pour in once a candidate decides to run, and certain companies align themselves with the candidate of their choice.  Eventually those who end up winning will have to return the favor.  A vote to award a contract to a campaign supporter definitely looks like a conflict of interest, but will it even be taken into account by our elected officials?  With Laredo's size and small pool of influential people, it looks like conflicts of interest will exist at every turn.  Paying more attention to the machinations of our political insiders, as Mr. Arambula suggests, may prove to be difficult. 

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